Back in April, Colorado Governor Jared Polis signed Senate Bill 19-181, which gives local governments more power to regulate, inspect, and fine oil and gas projects throughout the state. SB 19-181 is welcome news for environmentalists, Democrats, and local stakeholders who believe the oil and gas industry has been holding Colorado politics hostage for far too long.
In short, the new law gives local governments the power to regulate oil and gas facilities in their backyard.
Previously, local governments could only wield these regulatory powers after the Colorado Oil And Gas Conservation Commission said they could. According to the state legislature's official website, the law prioritizes "public safety, health, welfare, and the environment" over the interests of the oil and gas industry. It's a major win for environmentalists and politicians who believe local governments should be able to push back against oil and gas extraction activities in their own backyards.
In states like Texas, where oil and gas companies have a lot of political and economic power, similar efforts have failed. In Denton, Texas, voters rallied together to block hundreds of fracking operations. Even though these voters successfully passed a fracking ban, the state government quickly overruled the ban.
Now that Governor Polis has signed SB 19-181 into law, Colorado has instead given local governments new tools to stop potentially harmful oil and gas activities.
The bill was controversial from the start, as the oil and gas industry has a $31 billion annual economic impact on the state. Not surprisingly, oil and gas companies are worried about the ramifications of the new law. In addition, the bill directs the state's air quality commission to review its air quality testing rules. It also restores local county's ability to regular noise pollution caused by oil and gas production, which used to be exempt from these rules.
Proponents of the law note that this will make for an industry that's safer for everyone, but there are plenty of naysayers who warn that the passing of the bill represents greater governmental control and impending doom for the industry.
Americans rely on oil and gas products in many facets of daily life, often in ways they don't realize. Petroleum products are used in a number of industries, from industrial applications to the food and beverage and cosmetics sectors. Petroleum products, in concentrations ranging from 1% to 99%, are also found in skin creams, lotions, sunscreen, lipstick, and countless other cosmetic products. Approximately 86% of lubrication professionals consider an oil's viscosity index when selecting a lubricant, which are used in consumer vehicles, heavy equipment, and industrial machines alike. Gas products also have a wide range of applications, from energy production and transportation to the specialty pure gases used in medical treatments. Because oil and gas is so essential to modern life, any increase in costs will affect consumers — and the millions of Americans employed by this mammoth industry.
Still, that doesn't mean that accessing oils or gases is safe for people or for the planet — and state lawmakers decided they no longer wanted to be held hostage by the industry. Unsurprisingly, the law's adversaries aren't willing to give up without a fight. The bill was passed along party lines, and the powerful oil and gas lobby is already planning to punish some of the bill's supporters. Although critics of SB 19-181 have said they won't attempt to overturn the law this year, they've indicated they may try to do so in 2020. What's more, the industry has threatened to recall Colorado State Representative Rochelle Galindo, whose seat happens to be in the county where 90% of the state's gas and oil is pumped, due to her support of the bill.
While environmentalists are celebrating a rare victory, these tensions aren't going away. And while the bill probably isn't perfect by any stretch of the imagination, even those in Colorado's oil and gas industry admit that many lawmakers put a lot of hard work in to ensure that they took industry input into account.
Still, noted the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, "While we appreciated and supported a few critical amendments that were added to address some of our concerns and that provide a degree of certainty for our member companies, we still oppose the legislation... We are committed to being an engaged stakeholder and constructively working with the governor’s administration to try and get it right."