Longmont City Council Endorses 2 Proposed Oil, Gas Laws
Longmont City Council members voted unanimously Tuesday night to declare the city’s support of a pair of proposed state laws that would impose stricter requirements on oil and gas operations.
Both bills, sponsored by state Lafayette Democratic Rep. Mike Foote, gained Colorado House approval earlier Tuesday and will be carried in the Senate by state Louisville Democrat Matt Jones, both of whose eastern Boulder County legislative districts extend into Longmont.
The two measures:
• House Bill 18-1352, which would specify that oil and gas wells and production facilities must be at least 1,000 feet away from a school’s actual property line — replacing a current state regulatory requirement that such wells and facilities be at least 1,000 feet away from the school building on that school’s property.
• House Bill 18-1419, which would require an oil and gas operator to ensure well head integrity and to give electronic notice of the location of each flow line and gathering pipeline installed, owned or operated by the company to each municipality or county in which the subsurface lines are located.
There was no council discussion before Tuesday night’s 7-0 vote to support both measures.
Assistant Longmont City Manager Sandi Seader had written City Council members that clarifying the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission’s setbacks-from-schools rule — by measuring the setback from the property line — would require that oil and gas facilities have to be the 1,000-foot distance from soccer or football fields or other parts of the school property, and not just the school buildings themselves.
Seader wrote the council that passage of Foote’s bill requiring local government to be notified about the locations of underground oil and gas lines would be “a great step in providing additional transparency to residents with respect to oil and gas facilities in Longmont.”
Both the school-setbacks bill and the underground-lines notification bill got final House approval on 35-29 party-line votes on Tuesday, with Democrats — who hold 36 of the 65 seats in the House of Representatives — prevailing in each vote.
One Democrat, Longmont Rep. Jonathan Singer, was absent because his wife, Allison, was giving birth to a son.
Both bills, however, may now face fates similar to a number of other Democratic-sponsored oil and gas measures opposed by the oil and gas industry this year and in the past several years’ legislative sessions, when bills proposing stricter regulations or more local control over oil and gas operations have received support in the Democratic-majority House but died in the Republican-majority state Senate.
Conversely, bills supported by the oil and gas industry and opposed by many local governments and anti-fracking groups have gotten support in the GOP-controlled Senate but not in the Democratic-controlled House.
Foote said in a Tuesday email that despite the probable death of those two bills — along with that of a third oil and gas measure that gained House approval on a 34-30 vote that morning, with one Democrat voting with the 29 Republicans against it — it remains important to continue introducing and debating such proposed laws.
“I will always do the right thing for Boulder County regardless of the position taken by the oil and gas industry,” he said.
“The school setbacks bill, in particular, shows why this approach is important,” Foote said, noting that a similar bill died in the Senate last year.
“Since last year’s version was killed in the Senate, the Firestone house explosion was linked to an oil and gas flow line, there were 14 other fires or explosions at fracking sites, a football game was evacuated at halftime in Greeley last fall because a well site just 200 feet away from the field was leaking, and the operator at a well just 200 feet away from Erie’s Aspen Ridge school vented cancerous chemicals into the air while kids were at the school,” he said.
“It is clear something needs to change but it won’t change unless we try. I can’t stand by while our school kids next to these dangerous industrial operations are at risk of injury or worse,” Foote said.
Colorado Oil and Gas Association President Dan Haley said in a Tuesday email that COGA opposed HB 1352, the school setbacks bill, because the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission and that state agency’s staff “are beginning to explore comments made about energy development near school district property.
“Given that the COGCC is the state agency responsible for managing setbacks, we don’t believe it is appropriate to legislate an outcome before we understand the results of those conversations. COGA hopes to fully participate in that process so that we may best understand the truths of this issue,” he said.
Haley said his organization opposed the well head integrity and flow line notification requirements in HB 1419 because “existing well bore and mechanical integrity rules already address those elements of the bill. Not to mention that the flow line rule making” by the state Oil and Gas Conservation Commission “was finalized in February and those rules still need to be fully implemented.”
Foote’s third oil and gas measure approved in the House on Tuesday, House Bill 18-1289, would exempt local governments from being required to allow exploration and production on or underneath properties whose mineral rights those local governments own, including government-owned open space areas. Jones also is to carry that bill in the Senate.
The Colorado Oil and Gas Association’s Haley said: “We oppose this bill as it is rather short sighted. We’ve been working with a handful of legislators on a more comprehensive and thoughtful approach to pooling improvements” in another piece of legislation, “which if properly amended, we hope will make its way to the governor’s desk.”
The Longmont City Council has not taken a stand on Foote’s HB 1289.
Only up to eight days remain in the Legislature’s 2018 regular session, which must adjourn on or before midnight May 9.
John Fryar: 303-684-5211, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/jfryartc