The Club 20 Spring Conference held Saturday provided the chance to hear directly from the head of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, an agency set for major change in the wake of the passage of Senate Bill 181.

Two Mesa County commissioners, though, used the opportunity to give Jeff Robbins an earful.

"You made a comment that we're not going to see changes overnight. I wanted to let you know what's happening in Mesa County right now — which is kind of overnight to us," Commissioner Rose Pugliese told the oil and gas commission director. "We have an oil and gas company, in Mesa County, that has an $11 million payroll — they're going to Oklahoma."

"They're not going to (wait and) see what your rulemaking looks like," she said.

As Robbins described in an introductory presentation, SB181 — presumed to be signed into law by Gov. Jared Polis within weeks — changes the overall mission of the conservation commission. It will now prioritize the protection of the public and the environment, and will allow local governments to regulate the surface aspects of oil and gas development.

The measure also changes the commission's makeup, and volunteers will serve for the next 15 months, until July 2020 when the entity will become a five-member, full-time, paid commission.

July 2020 is also a deadline for new rulemaking, which is what Pugliese was referring to in her statement to Robbins.

"Halliburton just did their first round of layoffs. They've got two more coming," Pugliese continued.

"That's real. Those are people and families in our community that are leaving and taking their money with them," she told Robbins.

During his time at the microphone, Mesa County Commissioner John Justman questioned whether Robbins was sincere when he said his group would finalize new rules with the aid of public input.

"I don't know how many people testified on 181 remotely or in person, but overwhelmingly they all got, 'Thanks for the input. Shut up and sit down and go home,'" Justman said.

"We take that input and we use it meaningfully," Robbins assured.

"We ensure that there is stakeholder input in our process, and I've already been thinking about how we can ensure that that input brings the West Slope into play as well," Robbins said, adding that he hoped to bring the commission to the area sometime in the future to hear local voices.

"Even though nobody listened to us before, and never invited us to the table before, I hope you really mean it," Pugliese said.

Geoff Wilson, an attorney who formerly worked with the Colorado Municipal League, was also a panelist at the lunchtime forum and he similarly sought to assure attendees about the new law.

"At the local level, I don't think 181 is going to change much. The authorities outlined in 181 we have had for decades," Wilson said.

"Most municipalities were getting along great with the oil and gas industry, and have been for years, working out most of their arrangements with the one or two operators in town."

"I don't see any reason that 181 would make local officials suddenly change that way of doing business," he said.

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