DENVER (CBS4) – An estimated 500 people showed up at the State Capitol on Tuesday to testify on a bill that makes sweeping changes to oil and gas regulations in Colorado. Outside, a virtual sea of opponents gathered before the hearing and vowed a fight.
“Senate Bill 181, make no mistake, is another attempt to drive industry out of the state just with a different mask,” said Tracee Bentley with the Colorado Petroleum Council.
Inside the Capitol, proponents warned they wouldn’t back down.
“We have got to stop this! It is insane!” said Rep. Sonya Jaquez Lewis.
The bill makes health, safety and welfare the base test for any future drilling and gives local governments control over everything from setbacks to air quality control to permitting. But, if a local government’s standards are weaker than the state’s, the state’s standards would pre-empt the local’s.
Any pending permits that pose a risk would be put on hold until the new rules are in place. The industry argues that could be years.
Bill sponsor, Sen. Steve Fenberg, insists the legislation is not meant to ban oil and gas drilling, but to make it safer.
“If we wanted to shut down the industry we wouldn’t have wasted the ink to draft 27 pages in this bill.”
Maybe no one made a powerful case for tighter regulation than Erin Martinez, who survived an explosion at her Firestone home that killed her husband and brother.
“It was as if the entire house was lifted off the foundation and was crumbling around me.” The explosion was caused by a leaking flowline from a nearby well.
Martinez told committee members, “With proper regulations and inspections and pressure testing this entire tragedy could have been avoided.”
The bill was only introduced late last Friday. Opponents say democratic leadership in the Senate rushed the committee hearing in hopes that they wouldn’t testify with such late notice. But, even the overflow rooms at the Capitol were overflowing.
The committee hearing is the first of six hearings and four floor votes yet to come on the bill.