Democratic state Rep. Mike Foote of Lafayette figures he ran up to a dozen oil and gas regulatory measures that cleared the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives, only to see most of them die in the Republican-controlled state Senate.
Though Foote won't be around the legislature to see it because he didn't seek re-election, the future could be different for regulation of the industry now that the Democrats also have taken control of the Senate with Tuesday's election, which also saw Democrat Jared Polis elected governor.
While Proposition 112, which would have imposed a 2,500-foot setback between drilling and homes as well as vulnerable areas such as streams and recreation areas, lost this week, Foote points out that more than 800,000 Coloradans voted for it.
That, he said, "should be a real wakeup call to industry and the state that we need to reform the (regulatory) system. There's a lot of unhappiness with how the system is working or not working."
Leslie Robinson, president of the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance in Garfield County, expects the Democrat-led legislature and Polis will agree to expand the current 500-foot setback from homes, perhaps to 1,500 or 2,000 feet, "because industrial development doesn't belong next to homes and schools."
"It's discouraging about 112 (being defeated) but it's encouraging that we will have a legislature that will address some of our concerns out there in the gas patch," she said.
For some industry supporters who opposed Proposition 112, its defeat was dampened by the Democrats' state-level election success. Tom Jankovsky, a Garfield County Republican who narrowly won re-election, said he expects the Democrats' success might make things more challenging for him than in the past, including on oil and gas issues. He also doesn't think 112's defeat necessarily means the setback issue goes away.
"If we have a Democratic Senate and House and Democratic governor, I don't know that this (Proposition 112 setback) vote means it doesn't come back," he said.
The Democrats' state-level successes also included winning the attorney general, secretary of state and treasurer races. Democrat Phil Weiser defeated Republican George Brauchler in the race to replace Republican Cynthia Coffman, who has been supportive of the industry during her time in office.
"We lost everything," lamented Republican Rio Blanco County Commissioner Shawn Bolton.
He fears the Democrats "will just run rampant" when it comes to oil and gas and other policy matters, potentially prompting the revival of the secession movement that arose in some rural Colorado counties several years ago due to Democrat-led state actions at the time.
"They don't know how to act. They get power and act like little kids. I have a feeling if they go and start being stupid again like they were that time you'll see that movement start up big-time," he said.
He foresees an eventual conflict involving Democrats adopting tighter state regulations and the state trying to impose them on federal lands.
"They're going to try to override the feds and I think you'll see a fight like there's no tomorrow," he said.
The state and federal government typically adopt agreements to address how both state and federal oil and gas rules apply on federal land.
Bolton said he also expects to see lawsuits against the state if it tries to enact measures that take away people's mineral rights.
Foote believes concerns about property "takings" claims in the case of rules restricting drilling are overblown because such claims wouldn't hold up in the case of rules to prevent harm to residents. It's no different than keeping someone from opening a chemical plant in a neighborhood, he said.
"That's not a taking. That's just rational zoning," he said.
Kent Jolley, a Garfield County Republican rancher and royalty owner who serves on the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, said he's a bit apprehensive, but doesn't know what the Democrats' control of state government will mean for regulation of the industry.
"I guess nobody probably knows until they get their agenda out there," he said.
He said what regulatory changes the Polis administration may pursue may depend on whether he keeps current Department of Natural Resources Executive Director Bob Randall on the job, as Jolley would prefer, or replaces him with someone else.
Jolley said he doesn't anticipate wholesale new rulemaking initiatives right out of the gate, and also hopes that doesn't happen.
"Rulemaking is time-consuming and laborious and we have quite a bit on our plate right now," he said.
The agency currently is undertaking a rulemaking to address setbacks around schools. Eric Carlson, executive director of the West Slope Oil and Gas Association industry group, noted that the oil and gas commission just addressed setbacks in a rulemaking a few years ago, and said the school setbacks rulemaking is a chance to define the existing school setback rules more clearly.
He welcomes the defeat of what he considered a divisive Proposition 112, and said the industry will work collaboratively to make sure it can operate safely to protect its workers and the communities in which they work.
"That's a common goal we all have and we'll continue to do that," he said.
Gov. John Hickenlooper and his predecessor, Bill Ritter, both Democrats, already have led extensive overhauls of the state's oil and gas rules over the last decade, but contentious issues continue to arise, particularly involving drilling near homes. Polis previously pushed for greater setbacks but opposed Proposition 112. Carlson said Polis said before the election that he would accept the will of the people when it came to that measure, and he will take Polis at his word.
Both Robinson and Foote hope the Democrat-controlled legislature will look at allowing for more control by local governments over setbacks and other oil and gas regulations.
"I would imagine what my town of Lafayette wants would be different from what Grand Junction wants, for example," he said.
Foote also would like to see the COGCC start being willing to deny permits if they threaten health and safety. He thinks its mission should be changed from both regulating and promoting oil and gas development. He said it could simply agree to adopt a state appeals court ruling finding that health and safety must be the agency's primary consideration, rather than continuing its appeal of that ruling.
Robinson feels that while the battle to pass Proposition 112 failed, the larger battle over oil and gas regulation may still be won.
"I feel that there's going to be a big shift in regulating oil and gas development in Colorado, especially if the industry continues to move closer and closer to where people live," she said.