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Legislature kills efforts at addressing oil and gas setbacks and equipment tampering

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Oil and gas observers from both sides of the debate each received wins and losses in the legislature on Wednesday as lawmakers tackled setbacks and tampering with equipment.

Both bills received partisan votes in separate committees.

In the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee, which is controlled by Democrats, legislation died that would have increased penalties for vandalism of oil and gas equipment. The party-line vote was 6-3 to kill the measure.

The Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee, which is controlled by Republicans, killed a measure that would have required oil and gas operations to be located at least 1,000 feet from schools and other high occupancy buildings. The bill died on a party-line 6-5 vote.

“You shouldn’t put things that explode near schools where kids are, you shouldn’t put them near where they play, where they practice …” said Sen. Matt Jones, D-Louisville, who co-sponsored the bill. “We make kids go out on these fields. We shouldn’t be siting these things within 1,000 feet because they could explode.”

The oil and gas industry responded by pointing to the safety of operations and efforts to protect the environment. It said efforts to regulate the industry should remain with the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, and not the legislature.

Critics of the bill also pointed out that the legislation would have measured the 1,000-foot setback from the edge of school property. With some schools having large campuses, the industry felt the requirement was too stiff, and that it would have pushed operations toward other building.

While health and safety was being discussed in the setback hearing, potentially dangerous oil and gas equipment was the focus in the other hearing on tampering with operations.

“I agree with you on one thing you said, which is that these facilities are very dangerous, which is why I think it makes sense to not put them so close to schools and houses,” Rep. Mike Foote, D-Lafayette, addressed the vandalism bill’s sponsor. He sponsored the setback bill in the House.

Rep. Jon Becker, R-Fort Morgan, who carried the equipment tampering legislation in the House, said it is necessary to curtail environmental activists who have been damaging equipment in protest.

The legislation would have upped the penalty for knowingly tampering with equipment from a misdemeanor to a felony.

In an effort to appease critics, sponsors in the Senate amended the legislation to leave it a misdemeanor if anyone “alters, obstructs, interrupts, or interferes with” the operation of oil and gas equipment. The effort was meant to address blockades and protests at pipelines.

“Seeing how brazen this has become, we now have groups that are doing this and putting it on YouTube … They do this in an attempt to prove a point, but in doing this they could cause great harm,” Becker said.

Tracee Bentley, executive director of the Colorado Petroleum Council, said the purpose of the tampering legislation is to ensure safety.

“The No. 1 goal of our industry is safety, safety for our workers, safety for our surrounding communities, and for the environment …” she said. “Recently there have been a number of disturbing incidents impacting oil and gas operations in neighboring states.

“The new proposed legislation is in line with our effort to ensure safety … This legislation will deter people from tampering with oil and gas operations.”

But some observers believe that if the industry is concerned about harm because of equipment tampering, then it should be equally concerned about something going wrong near a school.

“A vote against this bill is a vote against your children, our children, the children of Colorado,” said Lafayette Mayor Christine Berg, who testified on the setback bill. “A vote against this bill is a vote for pollution and profits over our children’s health.”

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