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Political parties' divided control of the Colorado Legislature played a major part in dooming oil and gas laws introduced by either Democratic or Republican lawmakers during the four-month-long 2017 session that ended last Wednesday.With Democrats holding...

Oil, gas issues remain unresolved by Colorado Legislature

Political parties' divided control of the Colorado Legislature played a major part in dooming oil and gas laws introduced by either Democratic or Republican lawmakers during the four-month-long 2017 session that ended last Wednesday.With Democrats holding...

Oil, gas issues remain unresolved by Colorado Legislature

Political parties' divided control of the Colorado Legislature played a major part in dooming oil and gas laws introduced by either Democratic or Republican lawmakers during the four-month-long 2017 session that ended last Wednesday.

With Democrats holding 37 of the 65 Colorado House of Representatives seats and a majority of the seats on each House committee, GOP lawmakers' bills proposing changes to oil and gas statutes had doubtful futures in the House.

That turned out to be the case, for example, with a measure from Rep. Perry Buck — a Windsor Republican whose district includes southern Larimer County — that would have made local governments liable for paying oil and gas mineral rights holders who lose income because of local bans on the hydraulic fracturing process used to free up oil and gas deposits.

Buck's bill died in a House committee, as did a Senate-approved bill from Sterling Republican Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, who had proposed stiffened criminal penalties for protesters or anyone else convicted of vandalizing or tampering with oil and gas equipment.

Similar fates faced Democrats' oil and gas bills if they got as far as the 35-member Colorado Senate — a chamber where Republicans hold 18 seats and a majority on each of that chamber's committees.

Lafayette Democratic Rep. Mike Foote got House approval for a bill that would have increased the setbacks for any new gas wells drilled near the property lines of schools and child care centers. Foote had a separate bill that would have restricted a "forced pooling" process in which a company can extract oil from some areas where the company does not own the mineral rights.

Both of those bills gained House approval but died in a Senate committee, where they were carried by Louisville Democratic Sen. Matt Jones.

After the session ended, Foote said the only way to change the outcomes of bills such as the ones he sponsored "is to elect enough people who believe differently."

As long as the oil and gas industry "controls the Capitol, it will continue to stop any meaningful safety improvements," Foote said.

The split political-party makeup of the Legislature will be the same in 2018 as it was this year, and House Majority Leader KC Becker, D-Boulder, said, "I think it's going to be pretty hard to get something done on oil and gas while we have the Republican majority in the Senate."

Boulder Democratic Sen. Steve Fenberg added: "The Republicans basically blocked every single common-sense effort that was made to address oil and gas issues."

Broomfield Democratic Rep. Matt Gray, whose district extends into Boulder County, said oil and gas exploration "is the most important issue in my district right now. Thousands of my constituents are concerned about the influx of oil and gas development near neighborhoods where they have never imagined.

"These issues are nonpartisan in my community," Gray said, "but unfortunately, they are deeply partisan down at the Capitol, and as a result we made almost no progress."

Foote introduced a bill late in the session that would require mapping of all oil and gas pipelines in Colorado, in the wake of last month's Firestone house explosion that killed two people after gas from an abandoned flow line had entered the basement of the home. That bill died in the House at midnight May 8, when debate extended beyond the point where it could advance to a Tuesday morning House vote and possible Senate consideration on May 9.

Firestone Republican Rep. Lori Saine said she and Fort Collins Republican Sen. Vicki Marble — whose district extends through southwest Weld County into Broomfield — had both opposed Foote's bill.

But Saine said she and Marble "are arranging energy summits to work on this (oil and gas safety) issue, including conversations about legislation, what is needed for pipeline safety, mapping issues" and whether "changes can continue through the current process directed by the governor."

On May 2, Gov. John Hickenlooper directed that oil and gas operators: inspect and pressure test existing oil and gas flow lines within 1,000 feet of occupied buildings; ensure that any lines that are not in use are properly marked and capped, and ensure all abandoned lines are cut below the surface and sealed.

Longmont Rep. Jonathan Singer said, "We have a long way to go on protecting our air, land, water and people. The conversation on oil and gas has gotten very real since the tragic deaths in Firestone."

Said Gray: "Before next year, we need to focus on productive conversations that can truly move the needle for the people who have been and will be affected" by oil and gas exploration and production.

John Fryar: 303-684-5211, jfryar@times-call.com or twitter.com/jfryartc

Our editors found this article on this site using Google and regenerated it for our readers.

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