Amid mild fanfare on April 16, Governor Polis signed SB-181, also known as the Protect Public Welfare Oil and Gas Operations Act. Before signing the bill, Gov. Polis declared hope that the law would mean, “the oil and gas wars that have enveloped our state are over.”
The bill, passed largely along party lines, changed both the mission and composition of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) by prioritizing the protection of public safety and health, and the environment in the regulation the oil and gas industry, and establishing or reinforcing local government authority over the impacts of oil and gas development.
After a tumultuous history of citizen initiatives, legal suits, and unfavorable court decisions, the city of Longmont had already moved forward in 2018 on a deal with fracking operators to allow for fracking, but with no surface drilling sites within the city limits.
With the passage of SB-181, what does this mean for fracking in Longmont?
“I think the law is a good start. It will depend on how the county and local regulations are coordinated and defined,” said Joan Peck, At-Large Representative on Longmont City Council. “Right now, Longmont is monitoring air quality at Union Reservoir to see how the fracking operations there are affecting the ozone layer. If air quality goes below federal standards, it is my hope the new law will allow the city to take that air quality data to the COGCC and be able to assess fines on the operators. Another issue that has yet to be defined is whether a locality will be able to stop a drilling permit all together.”
The extent to which local government can regulate fracking activities will depend on how the rule making process at the COGCC shakes out. Until these formal rules are adopted, the law empowers the COGCC director to set “objective criteria” to determine if a new well needs additional analysis to ensure it meets the mission of the new law.
It is precisely these objective criteria that unnerves the industry. “The objective criteria are really setbacks for any new wells,” said an industry consultant who wished to remain anonymous. Asked what the new law will do to oil or gas development in Colorado, the consultant responded strongly that it will “preclude development altogether,” and investors he has been working with are reluctant to move forward until the full impacts of the new law are better understood. “The law is already having the affect of dampening development here in Colorado,” he added.
Based on reactions from both sides of the debate over fracking, it seems Gov. Polis’s hope of ending the oil and gas wars may be dashed.
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