DENVER (AP) – The oil and gas industry is getting unusual scrutiny these days in Colorado, where Democrats in charge of the Legislature are tapping on the pedestal occupied by a business once considered so powerful that lawmakers left it alone.
The latest tap came Thursday, when a House committee voted 7-5 to reduce the industry’s sway on the commission that regulates drilling. The bill would prevent people who work for oil and gas companies to also serve on the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission. State lawmakers have historically deferred to the COGCC on drilling regulation.
“The fox is guarding the henhouse,” said Rep. Mike Foote, D-Lafayette and sponsor of the bill. He said the current COGCC “stands shoulder to shoulder” with the energy industry, prompting doubt that the commission is properly protecting the public.
“Allowing an institutionalized conflict of interest to continue is not in the best interests of citizens,” said Ralph Trenary, a Loveland city council member.
But a cadre of industry representatives, and Republicans on the committee, argued that oil and gas workers on the commission bring needed expertise to the job. Existing conflict-of-interest guidelines, they argued, are sufficient.
Some compared the bill to removing doctors from a medical board. Others complained that the lack of industry representation would lead to wasted oil and gas resources.
“We are in no way in bed with COGCC,” insisted Scott Hall, CEO of Denver-based Black Diamond Minerals.
The bill wouldn’t affect current COGCC commissioners who work in oil and gas. But it would prohibit future members, who are appointed by governors, from being an employee, officer, or director of an oil and gas operator or service company while serving on the COGCC.
The bill now awaits a vote by the full House. A separate bill up for consideration Thursday, to tighten regulations for when drilling companies are required to report spills, was delayed until April 10.
More oil and gas crackdowns are under consideration in the Senate, including a measure to dramatically hike fines for environmental violations. Another bill would require drilling sites to be inspected annually, about three times more often than average wells are inspected now.
Some industry representatives seem to feel under siege by the Legislature’s new Democratic control. Drilling has come under increased scrutiny because recent technology has enabled producers to extract oil and gas in more populous areas.
Some industry representatives defended the industry. And some Republicans chided environmental activists by asking how they arrived at the Capitol. The answer? By car.
“Hydrocarbons are a vital commodity that are pervasive throughout our economy,” said Scott Campbell, an attorney representing Chevron USA.
The industry is girding for more efforts by the Legislature to exert new influence over how drilling is regulated. Democrats have hinted they’ll propose bills to overrule the COGCC and require bigger setbacks from homes, schools and waterways. Other bills could give local governments more say over how and where drilling is done.
– By Kristen Wyatt, AP Writer
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