Democrats drill down on state’s oil, gas industry
DENVER — Bills directed at limiting the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing have long been expected to be introduced into the 2013 legislative session.
But Democrats have gone a bit further than Republicans expected them to with some of those bills.
Last week, Democrats introduced, and even approved, measures that deal with other aspects of the state’s oil and gas industry, including one banning anyone who works in that industry from serving on the state panel that oversees it.
Currently, three of the nine members can work for the industry, but supporters say that’s not good enough. This measure is designed to remove any semblance of a conflict of interest on the panel.
Rep. Max Tyler, D-Golden and chairman of the committee that will hear most of those measures, says he thinks it’s a bad idea to allow that kind of conflict on a panel that oversees a $32 billion industry in the state.
“We need to make sure drilling is done properly and safely,” Tyler said. “The commission should have one mission and one mission alone, and that’s protecting public health.”
A funny thing to say, says Rep. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction.
The mission of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is to develop an energy resource. Its own mission statement on its website at cogcc.state.co.us says the commission’s job is to foster the responsible development of Colorado’s oil and gas natural resources.
That measure was joined by two others, both of which were approved on party-line votes in committee last week. One would dramatically increase fines for spills from $1,000 a day to $15,000 a day, and another increases the number of well inspections.
Scott said each goes too far.
with what we’re doing with these kinds of bills is we’re sending a very bad message to an already uncertain market,” Scott said. “The uncertainty level is already incredibly high. These (industry) people are very responsible with what they do. They’ve been doing it for a very long time. We’ve got to stop treating them like a smokestack industry.”
Scott said the Front Range lawmakers who are introducing the measures don’t realize that while the state’s unemployment rate has gone down in their areas, it hasn’t on the Western Slope.
They may be seeing more interaction with the drilling industry because of new oil resources on the east side of the Continental Divide, but their fear and loathing of the industry isn’t universally shared on the Western Slope, Scott said.
“We are a petroleum-based economy, and statistics show that’s not going to change for a very long time,” Scott said. “We can stomp our feet and cry and moan and groan, but it’s not going anywhere. My concern is, how many times are we going to poke these (industry) guys in the chest. We have to find out what is a reasonable middle.”