Bill would make it a felony to tamper with oil, gas equipment

DENVER — It didn’t matter that Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg tightened his measure to go after only the more egregious tamperings with oil and gas equipment. Senate Democrats still didn’t like the bill Tuesday.

A day after the Sterling Republican tacked on an amendment to his measure, SB35, to make it a felony for anyone who “knowingly destroys, breaks, removes or otherwise tampers” with drilling rigs, pipelines or other oil and gas facilities, the full Senate voted mostly along party lines to approve the bill, with only one of the 17 Democrats — Sen. Cheri Jahn, D-Wheat Ridge — joining the 18 Republicans favoring it.

While Democrats said the bill still appeared to them to be an attack on peaceful protests, Sonnenberg said it was needed to protect communities.

“Are there other crimes involving tampering with utilities that were a felony? There were none,” Sen. Nancy Todd, D-Denver, said.

“All tampering is not equal,” Sonnenberg countered. “Tampering with a waterline does not put a community in jeopardy. Changing the pressure on pipelines of natural gas or oil can create a catastrophic event. It’s almost like a terrorist event. That ought to be a felony.”

“If that’s the case, why are we putting these things in neighborhoods,” Sen. Matt Jones, D-Louisville, asked. “We should be protecting the people, not the oil and gas corporations.”

The bill retains current law that makes it a class 2 misdemeanor for anyone who “alters, obstructs, interrupts or interferes” with the operation of an oil or gas facility. That fine is punishable by up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Anyone who does actual damage, however, could be charged with a class 6 felony under the bill, punishable by up to 18 months in prison and a $100,000 fine.

Democrats contend there have been few real cases of such tampering, so a law is unnecessary.

Republicans, however, say the bill will help it stay that way.

The measure heads to the House, where the Democrats have the majority.


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