At the Energy and Environment Symposium last week in Rifle, local government officials from around Colorado rubbed elbows with oil and gas industry representatives.
The annual event was especially charged, given that Gov. Jared Polis had just signed Senate Bill 181 into law, granting local governments new authority to regulate oil and natural gas.
The Energy and Environment symposium is a two-day event. The first speaker, Jim Cole, an oil and gas lobbyist, presented on SB-181, which he called a “180-degree turn” from current regulations.
Now, a county can, for example, require new oil and gas operations be further away from neighborhoods or other buildings.
Colorado voted on new setback rules in November 2018. Proposition 112 was defeated, but it would have required any new oil and gas development on private land to be at least 2,500 feet from other buildings.
Garfield County Commissioner Mike Samson thinks SB-181 could threaten the oil and gas industry in western Colorado, where local governments depend heavily on the property tax from resource development.
“All of these new regulations...seem like they could be very harsh,” Samson said. “We don’t know what’s going to happen with everything yet, but if it goes the way we think it possibly could go. You’re going to see people leave; they’re going to say, ‘We can’t do business here, it’s too tough,’” he said.
Commissioner Sampson said the opportunity to put what he sees as more red tape around oil and gas development doesn’t equal local control. Local governments can go above and beyond state requirements, but not below.
SB 181 also will change the makeup of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), which is the state agency that regulates oil and gas development.
The agency is now tasked with regulating the oil and gas industry, paying specific attention to public health and the environment. In the past, its mission was to “foster the growth” of the oil and gas industry.
Oil and gas lobbyist Jim Cole’s advice to the local governments last week was to pump the brakes and not jump to use their newfound authority.