Mountain States

Hundreds of Oil & Gas Workers Pack the Halls of Colorado’s State Capitol to Oppose SB 181

Hundreds  of oil and gas workers turned out in opposition to Colorado’s SB-181 earlier this week for a rally and marathon Senate Transportation and Energy Committee hearing on the sweeping oil and gas legislation.

This bill that is being rushed through the Colorado legislature has faced heavy criticism, with even prominent Colorado Democrat Ken Salazar calling ittoo extreme for Colorado.”

The large turnout – roughly 1,000 according to most estimates throughout the day – led many media reports, with some commenting that the turnout was record setting for Colorado politics. All told, about half of the almost 400 people that signed up to speak testified during the 12-hour hearing, and EID was there to provide live updates on Twitter until the very end around 2 am.

Let’s take a look at some of the most important takeaways from the hearing.

With so much at stake, why the rush?

EID gave a rundown of all the major concerns with SB 181 earlier this week, and if Tuesday’s huge turnout was any indicator, one of the most pressing of these is the potential impact this bill could have on Colorado’s oil and gas industry..

Countless oil and gas workers testified that they were worried about losing their jobs, small business owners showed concern about the residual effects of the bill, and local officials spoke of the hit on tax revenue their municipalities may face.

Despite the potentially significant consequences of enacting such sweeping legislation, in a move that is completely out of character for Colorado’s legislature, Democrats scheduled the bill’s first hearing just one business day after they dropped the legislation at around 5pm on a Friday.

Denver-based 9 News journalist Marshall Zelinger pointed out how unusual that timeline is from a legislative standpoint.

As the Denver Post editorial board said, “Slow your roll, Democrats” because “[f]rankly, we’re surprised the seven members of the Senate Transportation and Energy Committee felt they had a good enough understanding of this legislation to vote on it.”

Since Democrats now control both chambers in the Colorado State Legislature, they theoretically have the votes for this bill to sail to passage, leaving many in the state wondering why they are rushing to pass this bill that could have statewide and wide-ranging ramifications. Also from the Denver Post:

“SB 181 is a huge omnibus oil and gas reform effort that proposes solutions to many unrelated problems that have proved elusive for years. It fundamentally changes the way the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission operates, and it also changes rules for how companies can develop the mineral rights of others without their consent. The bill requires continuous monitoring of emissions, and it also gives local communities control over the siting of wellheads.”

Putting all of this together in a bill that industry leaders say they didn’t see until Friday (or even anticipate) is a bit brash.” (emphasis added)

Realistically, it’s important to slow this process down and, even more importantly, take the time to listen to impacted communities. Scott Prestidge of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association testified on this during questioning by committee members that maintained the bill poses no threat of job loss:

Lawmaker: What aspects of the bill are we concerned about causing true, actual job loss?

Prestige: One of the facts of the Proposition 112 campaign is it specifically looked at setbacks.  This legislation looks at dozens and dozens and dozens of things that could significantly impact the industry in very similar fashion.  The fact that it’s unpresented authority that could be given to the director of the COGCC around moratorium, long term moratorium, around the rulemaking process, and understanding that there are enough rulemakings in this bill that could last years and years. That scares companies. Because it’s uncertain. And anytime you have something that could establish an indefinite moratorium, how are you going to address that?  How are you going to provide confidence not only to companies but to their employees? And I think that this chamber needs to own that to be quite honest.

Second from there, you remove state stop-game authority. You remove the state’s ability to be that line that keeps a floor and all powers go to local governments where they don’t have to use any sort of science other than what they determine might qualify as science.  You make science subjective.  And you have local communities that could create subjective setback rules, regulatory rules, without any backstop authority from the state. That also is a terrifying proposition. Because of built-in uncertainty that you can’t predict. Now those are just two examples and there are several within this bill that need to be discussed and I think that’s why there have been requests over and over again from a number of people about slowing this down.  If this is the bill that we need to be talking about then let’s sit down and dive into it. (emphasis added)

Colorado has become a model of collaboration that was noticeably absent in drafting this legislation.

In addition to the expedited process and Friday evening release, no one from industry – or any impacted stakeholders – saw any text of the bill until it went public on Friday. Meanwhile, State Senator Steve Fenberg intimated during a town hall last week that advocates had been permitted to preview the bill before it was released, which appears to describe “advocates” of stricter regulations.

This issue was emphasized by multiple speakers. A representative from the Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado testified that none of the group’s local official members had been contacted about the bill. Even Gwen Lachelt, a prominent environmental activist and La Plata County Commissioner said she had not seen the bill before it was released. So in the end, it appears that two Democrats representing Boulder drafted the oil and gas bill that will drastically change how the industry operates throughout Colorado.

 Powerful testimony from diverse stakeholders

There were plenty of noteworthy moments throughout the 12 hours of testimony.  Here are a few voices that stood out.

A recruiter for oil and gas companies explained the potential impacts to his business that has recently been able to hire additional workers this year:

“One of the things we worry about with this bill is that it’s going to halt our hiring.  We’ve got another 40 positions budgeted for this year—another 40 families we can impact. With this bill it could possibly halt our hiring and it could even lead to layoffs… When our stakeholders, when our investors are looking at this bill, reading this as a possible moratorium without any other legislative guidance, it’s causing a spot where we can’t be giving any more offer letters and also are looking at possibly, again, laying people off.”

A 14-year old student spoke about his own experience witnessing his parents work for years in the industry as safety experts. He also talked about how the bill may impact him personally, explaining that the high school he is set to attend next year relies on the industry for about $660,000 in funding per year:

“Both my parents are safety professionals in the oil and gas industry. They have been working with workers as long as I can remember. Many days they both leave before I am up for school helping workers in safety classes. They often talk about safety and the importance of what they do for families in Colorado.  I’m proud of both of them and how they help other families.”

Colorado Bankers Association COO Jenifer Waller spoke to the economic impact the bill might have on the business community:

“We know of no other industry that would be able to fill the gap if the oil and gas industry activity should be diminished.  We’re talking about jobs lost, businesses closing on the street.  So we ask you to be very thoughtful and mindful of that when regulating the oil and gas industry… we would urge you to slow down the process, have a thorough stakeholder process and be mindful of the impact oil and gas has on Colorado.”

An oilfield worker was one of the last to testify and patiently waited until around 2am to address the committee.  He was dressed in coveralls because he was planning on returning to his shift.

“I’m generally not a proponent of legislation by personal anecdote stories but I know that the oil and gas industry has provided a wonderful living for countless individuals just like me, that have families that have children and I would plead with you to consider carefully this bill before pushing it through. It’s been said that sunlight is the best disinfectant and good ideas withstand sunlight.”

National “Keep It In the Ground” groups testified in support of this bill

Perhaps just as telling as the turnout in opposition to the bill were the groups who came out in support.  Nearing the end of the night, representatives from, the Sierra Club and Earth Guardians all urged the committee to support the legislation. These groups all ascribe to the “Keep it in the Ground” platform, which calls for a halt on any and all fossil fuel development and a ban on fracking.  Earth Guardians is the group behind the Martinez vs. COGCC lawsuit which had pushed for many of the same changes to regulations that were ultimately included in this bill. It appears what they lost at the Colorado Supreme Court, they seek to gain in the state legislature.

And most notably, the group behind Proposition 112, Colorado Rising, is tacitly supporting the bill.  Officially, they have maintained a neutral stance and did not testify yesterday.  However, during a video conference earlier this week, Executive Director Joe Salazar said, “morally speaking, we have to see that this bill passes cleanly.”

As EID highlighted during the Proposition 112 campaign, Colorado Rising surrounded itself with ban fracking groups and national activists making clear what their intentions were with the ballot measure. The support of SB 181 by these groups is one of the most telling indicators of how it will impact industry.

Bottom Line

Tuesday was a pretty monumental day at the Colorado State Capitol.  It’s clear there’s a lot at stake as SB 181 progresses through the legislative process.  After the hours of testimony from hundreds of stakeholders, the committee ultimately voted to advance the bill by a party-line vote of 4 to 3.  Be sure to follow EID on Twitter at @EIDMtnStates for updates during the next hearing on the bill in the Senate Finance Committee later today.

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