Governor should support oil, gas commission changes

By Sen. Steve King

No economy ever sank under the regulatory burden of the day. It is when tomorrow’s burdens are added to the burdens of today that the weight is more than an economy can bear. Despite promises made by Gov. John Hickenlooper to fix Colorado’s troubled Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, every day that passes is one day further away from bringing economic health to the Western Slope and our state.

Thus far, Hickenlooper has voiced support for western Colorado’s natural gas sector and that’s a good thing for Colorado. But in my district with 11 percent-plus unemployment and one of the highest foreclosure rates in the state, voicing support is sadly just talk. It does not feed your family, pay the bills, or keep a roof over your head.

House Bill 1223 is action, the type of action that puts people back to work. It is the type of action that acknowledges a healthy, robust economy as a critical part of the Colorado environment.

The natural gas industry’s frustration over a Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission that is lacking technical knowledge is one of the many causes of a drop in exploration on the Western Slope and the exodus of the industry from our state. This also happened during the worst recession since the Great Depression.

HB 1223 is legislation that starts to mitigate the long-term damage done to a critical Colorado economic driver by a one-term former governor willing to fall on his sword for his misguided and inaccurate beliefs about natural gas (Remember “natural gas is just a bridge energy”) and renewable energy.

On one point we can all agree: The region’s extractive industries have environmental and social impacts. And these impacts must be mitigated while energy companies are held to the highest environmental standards. We all understand that bad actors and companies which don’t follow the rules, or cut corners for financial gain, must be punished. At the same time, like other Colorado business sectors, the natural gas and oil business deserves a regulatory authority whose members understand the business they are tasked with regulating.

The Colorado Bar Association is made up of lawyers, the Colorado Medical Society is made up of doctors, the state Department of Higher Education is staffed with academics and the State Board of Health is made up of practitioners of public health. The one area where this is not true is the Oil and Gas Commission. In fact, a significant number of voting members on the commission were appointed and knew almost nothing about the industry they were tasked with regulating. To this day, the commission is not in compliance with its own rules about technology and experience on this commission.

The energy sector is one of the most technology-driven and complex businesses in our state. Exploration and production, pad location and design, drilling and completions and environmental remediation all pull engineers, researchers and scientists from some of the most prestigious educational institutions in the world. The decisions made by the Oil and Gas Commission have huge implications. They are very technical and require appointees with the proper training to make informed decisions.

Some have argued that technical knowledge is not important because the commission is equipped with a technical staff meant to provide the commission guidance. In reality, the commissioners also need technical knowledge and background so that the commission is setting policy, not just rubber stamping the objectives of an institutionalized staff.

This legislation, HB 1223, was moved through the Colorado House of Representatives only after weeks of offering to work with the governor’s staff to jointly write a bill to increase technical knowledge on the commission and de-politicize the body by removing voting cabinet members. Even today, the potential for amendments and compromise still exists, should Gov. Hickenlooper and Senate Democrats come to the table to help us fix the problem.

There is talk from across the aisle to prohibit the bill from getting to the governor’s desk by stalling the bill in the Senate. Some in the media have said moving such a bill in the face of Senate opposition is a waste of the Legislature’s time. That is wrong. This is problem-oriented legislating by providing a level of accountability to the executive branch. It sheds light on an ongoing problem facing my district’s largest job creating sector.

This legislation fulfills a campaign promise that was made to focus on a functional, accountable and technically superior Oil and Gas Commission and to reverse the damage inflicted on our economy by the actions of the previous administration. HB 1223 is supported by local business and trade groups across the Western Slope. I hope the Colorado Senate and the governor will continue working with us to positively and proactively fix the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

State Sen. Steve King represents Mesa County and a portion of Garfield County in the Colorado Legislature.


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