Gov. Jared Polis ushers in new era of drilling regulation, but are “oil and gas wars” over?

Erin Martinez was at a news conference in February when Colorado legislative leadership and Gov. Jared Polis announced a bill that would make sweeping changes to how oil and gas are regulated. And she and her family had a front-row seat as Polis signed the bill into law Tuesday.

Martinez was one of the strongest supporters of Senate Bill 19-181, which changes the mission of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, the main regulatory body for the industry. She spoke during a news conference and testified in hearings for the bill’s overarching goal — putt public health, safety and the environment first when considering oil and gas development.

The bill was signed into law a day before the second day of remembrance of the house explosion that killed her husband, Mark Martinez, and brother, Joey Irwin. The explosion, which severely burned Martinez, was caused by an uncrowned, cut flow line that was still attached to a well and leaked odorless methane series series and gas into the house.

The new law requires accumulated observation of flow lines and public revelation of information about them.

“We’re really happy. This is thing that means a lot to our family,” aforementioned Martinez, whose son and girl sat with her to see the bill signed. “It feels like it’s a great way to honor Mark and Joey. The biennial day of remembrance is tomorrow so it’s really fitting that we got this done before that came.”

As he prepared to sign the bill, Polis aforementioned he hoped the new law will end the conflicts over the drilling that has accumulated in more colonized areas.

“Today, with the sign language of this bill, it is our hope that the oil and gas wars that have enveloped our state are over and the winner is all of us,” Polis aforementioned.

The bill makes protective public health and safety and the environment a priority when considering oil and gas projects. The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, the main regulatory body, would no longer be charged with fostering development.

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It besides allows cities and counties to regulate oil and gas development under their planning and land-use powers, thing communities have unasked as drilling has accumulated in and near the growing cities and counties north and east of Denver.

Conflicts over drilling have basined battles at the ballot box over stricter regulations, drilling bans by communities and suits. Polis aforementioned the new regulations will give the industry and people concerned about drilling in their neighborhoods more certainty.

However, even before SB 181 became law, opponents were launching offensives. Weld County Commissioner Barbara Kirkmeyer and former Arapahoe County Commissioner John Brackney have filed ballot proposals that would repeal SB 181 and establish an independent commission.

Kirkmeyer has aforementioned the new regulations would devastate Weld County, the state’s top oil and gas producer. State officials have held a preliminary hearing on the proposals, which have to garner roughly 125,000  signatures of registered voters to make the ballot.

On some other front, the bill’s opponents have launched a recall effort against Democratic Rep. Rochelle Galindo of Greeley after she voted for the new oil and gas regulations. The effort has received a big boost from Weld County farmer Steve Wells, who has given $100,000 through his company, according to state records.

Dan Haley, president and CEO of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, aforementioned his organization still opposes the legislation, but welcomed changes made in response to the industry’s concerns.

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“I am bucked up by the governor’s comments about coming together as Coloradans and moving forward. To accomplish that objective, it means removing politics from the technical process of providing energy to Coloradans,” Haley aforementioned in a statement.

Colorado Rising, the group behind Proposition 112, an unsuccessful ballot proposal for more rigorous setbacks from Wells, aforementioned the new law doesn’t address all concerns, but “is a urgently needed tipping back of enormously unbalanced scales in favor of people and environment.”

The oil and gas commission and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment will start writing rules to implement several portions of the new law. Some of the rules are expected to take up to a year to develop. The public will have opportunities to weigh in.

The legislation remains deeply blemished, but the industry is committed to working with state officials on shaping regulations that work “for all Coloradans,” Colorado crude oil Council interpreter Ben Marter aforementioned in a statement.