Colorado House approves oil and gas local control bill, measure heads back to Senate for concurrence

Posted at 2:21 PM, Mar 29, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-29 18:15:58-04

DENVER (AP) — Colorado’s Democrat-controlled House approved legislation Friday that would require regulators to prioritize public safety and health in well drilling decisions affecting the state’s $32 billion oil and gas industry.

House Speaker KC Becker’s bill — driven by increased drilling near schools and homes — passed on a 36-28 party line vote after hours of debate.

It now goes to the Senate, where majority Democrats are expected to approve amendments and forward it to Democratic Gov. Jared Polis, a supporter of the bill.

“Today, we are listening to our communities and refusing to ignore the growing health and environmental impacts of oil and gas drilling near homes and schools,” Becker, an environmental attorney from Boulder County, said after the vote.

Colorado is the nation’s No. 5 crude oil producer and No. 6 for natural gas.

Policymakers have struggled to balance its energy industry with the health and safety of residents in fast-growing communities that have expanded into the rich Wattenberg oil and gas field north of Denver.

In November, voters rejected a ballot measure that would have severely restricted the location of new drilling. But the voters also gave Democrats control of the Legislature and the governorship.

The bill also gives municipalities a say in where drilling can occur.

Republicans and industry groups argue the overhaul will harm oil and gas production and the tax revenue it generates.

Energy groups such as the Colorado Petroleum Council and the Colorado Oil and Gas Association accused Democrats of rushing the legislation, which was introduced March 1.

Industry groups also aired television ads urging citizens to tell their representatives to oppose the legislation.

During debate late Thursday, House Republicans tried and failed to add a clause to the bill that would have allowed petitions for a referendum seeking to overturn the initiative if it became law.