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Joey BunchJoey BunchFebruary 26, 20183min1550

Here’s something you don’t hear often enough: Thank you, Ray Scott.

The rock-ribbed Republican senator from Grand Junction is a political slugger, but he’s found a soft side to get Democrats to the table on energy issues this session. He also is as strong an advocate for oil and gas, along with coal, as you apt to find in the General Assembly.

Last week, two Scott bills, both substantive, advanced with the strong support of Democrats.

Senate Bill 3 preserves the Colorado Energy Office and ensures it’s not overly focused on renewable sources. The legislation passed the Senate, 34-1, on Thursday — to the relief of most Democrats and environmental proponents hoping to keep the state’s hand, and dollars, in promoting renewable energy.

The only no vote in the upper chamber was Sen. Matt Jones, a Democrat from Louisville who leads the Senate Democrats’ efforts on clean air and renewable energy. He thinks the stay should keep its focus on energy sources for the future, and take position on fossil fuels effect on public health.

Scott said the landslide vote was the product of months of negotiations about what the office should be.

“Colorado is blessed to be an energy powerhouse among states, with a diversity of options available to us that other states can only envy, yet for too long our Energy Office was almost exclusively focused on a few technologies and ignoring all the others,” Scott said in a statement. “An all-of-the-above energy state needs and all-of-the-above energy office, which is what we’ll finally have if this bill continues to gain steam.”

The same day, the Senate Transportation Committee passed a bill, on a bipartisan vote, to toughen the state’s laws on contractors and excavators, working around energy and utility lines. Since the fatal explosion of a gas line in Firestone last year, Democrats have been calling for more regulations to safeguard the public from energy and utility lines, so this is bipartisan win on a partial solution, if it makes it into law.

The effort didn’t start with Firestone, however. Scott said he and Donovan had been working on it for 20 months with 58 stakeholders.

“This has been the most difficult and technical measure I have worked in my seven years in the building,” Scott stated.

The left can go back to hating him for his more conservative energy positions after this.


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Joey BunchJoey BunchFebruary 14, 20186min426
The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission approved rules Tuesday to help the public get a general idea where oil and gas pipelines are located. The nine-member panel unanimously approved the regulatory update after three days of testimony. Regulators have been working on the proposal for months, in the wake of a home explosion in […]

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Peter MarcusPeter MarcusAugust 22, 20176min382

After a three-month review following a home explosion that killed two people in Firestone, Gov. John Hickenlooper on Tuesday placed some of the onus on oil and gas operators.

The April explosion was caused by natural gas leaking from an old pipeline, an incident that renewed a broader political conversation.

Hickenlooper, a Democrat and former geologist, ordered a review of existing oil and gas operations in the aftermath of the incident.

On Tuesday, the governor announced the state’s response, which includes asking the oil and gas industry to take greater responsibility. Steps include:

  • Creating a nonprofit to plug as many as 800 abandoned wells and provide refunds for in-home methane monitors, something which the oil and gas industry could be responsible for;
  • Strengthening regulations around existing gas lines;
  • Enhancing efforts around protecting underground infrastructure and promoting excavator and public safety education;
  • Prohibiting homeowners from tapping into industry gas lines;
  • Creating a workgroup to improve safety training;
  • Requesting a review of some state rules; and
  • Exploring a methane leak detection pilot program.

Hickenlooper in May pointed out that there is no database of older existing gas lines, but aside from enhancing efforts around protecting underground infrastructure and excavations, there is no plan for mapping existing lines. Concerns were raised that it would be difficult to prohibit homeowners from tapping into industry lines if a public map was available.

“At the time of the explosion, we committed to do all we could to ensure that what happened to the Martinez and Irwin families never happens again,” Hickenlooper said in a statement. “The actions we announced today are a responsible and appropriate response that places public safety first.”

The bodies of brothers-in-law Mark Martinez and Joey Irwin, both 42, were discovered in the basement one day after the explosion. Martinez’s wife, Erin, was seriously injured.

A well sits 178 feet from the home in Firestone, in which the two wen were killed in a devastating explosion.

The underground line had been cut about 10 feet from the house, state regulators said. Gas seeped through the ground and into the basement, where it exploded on April 17.

The governor’s office hopes to implement the proposals within a year. Some steps could be taken through state regulators, but others could require the legislature’s approval.

A handful of lawmakers this year proposed regulating residential development near operations, something that the governor does not mention in his Tuesday announcement. That discussion could resume again in the legislature next year.

Sen. Matt Jones, D-Louisville, who has led many anti-fracking discussions in the legislature, is already considering such legislation.

At the time of the explosion, he said, “As more information has come to light, it has become clearer that these oil wells, pipes, and tanks are simply too dangerous to be in close proximity to homes, businesses, and schools. We need to take steps to ensure a tragedy like this doesn’t happen again.”

From the industry’s standpoint, the Colorado Petroleum Council said it is committed to “safe and responsible operations, environmental stewardship, and economic prosperity for communities throughout the state.”

“The tragic event in Firestone earlier this summer serves to reaffirm the oil and natural gas industry’s long-standing commitment with regulators and emergency officials to never let up on our core value of safety,” said CPC Executive Director Tracee Bentley. “We are committed to working with the governor and the state over the next several months as we work through these proposals, all the while continuing to deliver the energy that runs our state and our country with the highest possible standards and safety practices.”

Dan Haley, president and chief executive of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, issued a similar response: “Colorado’s oil and gas industry just completed a rigorous safety examination and reporting process in full cooperation with the COGCC following the tragedy in Firestone.

“While the results confirm the high safety standards practiced by the industry, we’ve also engaged in several conversations with a number of stakeholders over the past few months, including state legislators on both sides of the aisle and the governor. We look forward to closely reviewing the details of the governor’s proposal and will fully engage in conversations about next steps.”

Hickenlooper also announced that the Department of Public Health and Environment will form an alliance with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and the Colorado Oil and Gas Association. The goal is to collaboratively address safety within the industry. The effort launches in September.

“Our state is fortunate to receive a federal grant to evaluate and address worker safety specific to oil and gas operations” said Dr. Larry Wolk, executive director of CDPHE. “Public health and safety protections need to extend to these workers and we are fortunate to have the collaborative support and leadership of the the governor, industry and our federal agency partners.”


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Ernest LuningErnest LuningJune 22, 201710min838

Democratic candidates for Colorado attorney general this week tore into Republican incumbent Cynthia Coffman’s month-old decision to appeal a court ruling critics say could bring a halt to oil and gas production in the state, with two of the Democrats vowing to scrap the appeal if elected and one of them lashing his primary opponents for not weighing in sooner.


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Peter MarcusMay 16, 20178min296

Environmental groups are encouraging the governor not to appeal a Colorado Court of Appeals decision emphasizing health and safety in permitting drilling.

Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat and former geologist, has until Thursday to decide whether to appeal the case, which could require state oil and gas regulators to take another look at a request to suspend fracking until drillers can prove it is safe.

The requests from environmental groups comes at a politically charged time for the oil and gas industry. A recent home explosion in Firestone linked to natural gas leaking from an old pipeline spurred debates in the legislature, as well as renewed talks of ballot initiatives.

Environmental groups have delivered letters to the governor urging him not to appeal the case. More than 1,500 residents, 39 local elected officials and community leaders, and 13 state lawmakers signed onto the letters. Hickenlooper has often found himself at odds with anti-industry activists who believe the governor is too cozy with the industry.

The initial 2013 case involved Xiuhtezcatl Martinez of Boulder and other teenagers, who asked state regulators to adopt regulations stating that drilling permits could not be issued without a finding that operations would not impact Colorado’s air, water and wildlife and that public health would be protected.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, which oversees regulations of the oil and gas industry in Colorado, denied the request, arguing that it lacked the authority.

The COGCC’s mission has been set by the legislature to foster “responsible, balanced”  energy development “in a manner consistent with public health, safety, and environmental and wildlife impacts.”

The appeals court ruling said, “Critical here is the proper interpretation of the phrase ‘in a manner consistent with.’ We agree with Petitioners that ‘in a manner consistent with’ does not indicate a balancing test but rather a condition that must be fulfilled.”

In the 2013 request, the group of teenagers asked the state to deny drilling permits “unless the best available science demonstrates, and an independent third party organization confirms, that drilling can occur in a manner that does not cumulatively, with other actions, impair Colorado’s atmosphere, water, wildlife, and land resources, does not adversely impact human health and does not contribute to climate change.”

The COGCC in 2014 denied the request following a hearing. The proposal has drawn opposition from powerful oil and gas industry interests, as well as the state.

The group of teenagers took the case to Denver District Court, which sided with the state. The case was appealed, with the teenagers arguing that the lower court misinterpreted the mission of the COGCC.

In March, the three-judge appellate panel said the COGCC’s mission “was not intended to require that a balancing test be applied.”

“The clear language … mandates that the development of oil and gas in Colorado be regulated subject to the protection of public health, safety, and welfare, including protection of the environment and wildlife resources,” the appellate court wrote.

If the case is not appealed, then the proposal would go back to the COGCC to reconsider the petition. Hickenlooper’s administration can appeal to the Colorado Supreme Court by Thursday.

“We are aware of the requests from interested parties and are taking the time to give this case a thorough review,” said a spokeswoman for Hickenlooper on Tuesday.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Association said the appellate court ruling “disrupts decades of regulatory precedent.”

“We believe the state should appeal this decision to the Colorado Supreme Court. Through the Colorado Oil and Gas Act, the law directs the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) to balance a variety of development interests, including the environment,” said Dan Haley, president and chief executive of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association.

“The Appeals Court ruling disregards decades of precedent in utilizing the balance test described in statute. The COGCC, which voted unanimously to appeal this decision, has employed this balancing act on numerous occasions as evidenced by Colorado’s comprehensive regulations, which are among the most stringent in that nation.”

The association pointed out that Colorado was the first state in the nation to disclose the chemicals in hydraulic fracturing, and to require pre- and post-drilling groundwater monitoring.

The conversation intensified after the recent event in Firestone, where a home that sits 178 feet from a well exploded, killing two men. The bodies of brothers-in-law Mark Martinez and Joey Irwin, both 42, were discovered in the basement one day after the explosion. Martinez’s wife, Erin, was seriously injured.

Following the incident, Hickenlooper ordered a review of existing oil and gas operations. He also expressed interest in developing a database of older existing gas lines.

Lawmakers this year discussed setback legislation, in which wells would have been further setback from schools by mapping the distance from school property lines. After the Firestone explosion other efforts were discussed to map gas lines. The proposals died over industry and Republican objections.

“Several bills that would have done a better job of protecting Colorado communities from oil and gas failed in the state Senate during this past legislative session,” said Pete Maysmith, executive director of Conservation Colorado. “Now, it’s up to the governor to take this opportunity to protect public health and the environment and do all that he can to prevent tragedies like Firestone.”

“All the Martinez decision says is that Colorado must protect public health, safety, and the environment when approving oil and gas development,” said Mike Freeman, an attorney with Earthjustice. “But the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has been telling Coloradans for years that it already does that. If the COGCC has been meeting its obligations to protect Coloradans, the State should have no objection to the court’s ruling.”


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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirMay 10, 20175min270

Having just turned back a Democratic attempt in the state House to make oil and gas producers map and disclose their underground gas lines statewide, Republicans on Tuesday watched as their own effort to tackle potential gas-line hazards was scuttled by Democrats in the same chamber.

Both parties have scrambled to address questions involving the flow lines after a devastating explosion April 17 killed two and injured a third at a home near a well in Firestone. Investigators  have determined an old underground gas flow line had been cut about 10 feet from the house, and gas had seeped through the ground to the home’s basement, where it exploded.

The Democratic response, introduced in the House last week as House Bill 1372, would have established a searchable map of all such gas lines statewide, coordinated by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. The bill was derailed by the chamber’s minority Republicans in a late-night filibuster as they argued that oil and gas regulators already had ordered safety reviews of the state’s wells and gas lines and that property owners can learn more using geographic information system locator technology.

Meanwhile, ruling Republicans in the state Senate included a provision addressing the same issue in their wide-ranging bill restructuring the Colorado Energy Office. The sweeping Senate Bill 301, introduced late last month, in part required oil and gas operators to inspect the integrity of flowlines throughout the state. After the bill passed the Senate earlier this week and was introduced in the Democratic-run House, the provision was stripped out.

More tit for tat in the legislature’s closing days? It is the unofficial sport of the General Assembly, after all. Republicans are claiming that’s what happened to SB 301. In a press release from the Senate GOP, the bill’s sponsor lashed out:

“Less than 24 hours ago, Democrats were saying that something must be done to reassure the public about gas line safety, but today, apparently because this proposal was made by Republicans, they decide that it’s not, by removing this important provision from an energy bill,” said SB301 author Ray Scott (R-Grand Junction). “It’s appalling to see Democrats obstructing legislation that’s not just supported by the governor, but would have given communities around the state some additional peace of mind.”

The Republican press statement points out Gov. John Hickenlooper already had ordered the oil and gas commission to pressure-check all flow lines within 1,000 feet of any building regardless of when the line was installed or taken out of service, and Republicans say the provision in SB 301 would have written the governor’s order into statute. It would have required the commission to report to the state legislature every 30 days until pressure-checks and accompanying documentation were completed on all flow lines in Colorado.

As reported by the Associated Press this week, the Democratic governor, himself a onetime petroleum geologist, had seemed ambivalent about his own party’s prescription for flow-line mapping. He suggested improved well maps might be more practical if maintained by local governments rather than the state.

The AP account quoted the governor:

“I don’t think it’s unreasonable to want to know where those lines are. I’m not compelled that it’s got to be the state that controls that,” Hickenlooper said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



Joey BunchJoey BunchMay 7, 20176min325

Like bubbles in boiling water, things are moving faster at the Colorado Capitol as we move closer to the May 10 adjournment.

As lawmakers continue to wrangle with the most important bills that have been at the top of the agenda since January, a pipeline explosion in Firestone and a news out of Washington shook things up.

These are the stories out staff thinks are worth revisiting, because these issues aren’t going away soon.

 

Former Colorado U.S. Rep. Ray Kogovsek of Pueblo died Sunday. (Kirk Speer/The Gazette)

5. Former congressman from Pueblo remembered as a legend and friend

Ray Kogovsek, the congressman who never took politics personally, was remembered as “a legend in southern Colorado politics, a linchpin in the state Democratic Party and a friend to countless Coloradans.” He died at his home in Pueblo. He was 75.

Read the full story here.

 

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Vice President Mike Pence applauds as President Donald Trump arrives in the Kennedy Garden of the White House in Washington Monday to speak to the Independent Community Bankers Association. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

4. Religious liberty advocates had faith there would be more

President Trump signed his long-awaited executive order on religious liberty this week, and people on both sides of the issue in Colorado were underwhelmed. One Colorado, the state’s largest LBGTQ advocacy group, didn’t even bother to comment, and Colorado Springs religious leaders said Congress needs to get onboard to do more.

Read the full story here.

 

Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) celebrating Thursday’s health care vote with President Trump. (Credit Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Tex.)

3. Republican health care plan divides Colorado congressmen

Colorado Springs Congressman Doug Lamborn sounded thrilled to vote to repeal Obamacare last week, saying it would put America on the path to a healthier insurance marketplace. But fellow Republican Rep. Mike Coffman of Aurora said he couldn’t do what the bill asks to people with pre-existing conditions, so he voted no.

Read the full story here.

 

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(Photo by Joey Bunch/Colorado Politics)

2. Construction defects litigation is finally going to the governor

It took four legislative session and a dozen unsuccessful bills, but Republicans and Democrats finally agreed on a way to address lawsuits against builders, the alleged reason why fewer affordable condos are being built in a growing affordable housing crisis. Is it real reform or smoke and mirrors?

Read the full story here. 

 

In this April 18, 2017, photo, investigators stand by as debris is removed from a house that was destroyed in a deadly explosion in Firestone, Colo., on April 17. Anadarko Petroleum said Wednesday, April 26, that it operated a well about 200 feet (60 meters) from the house in the town of Firestone. The company didn’t say whether the well was believed to be a factor in the explosion or whether it produced oil, gas or both. (Matthew Jonas/The Daily Times Call via AP)

1. Firestone explosion continues to rumble through politics

After it was announced Tuesday that the double-fatal house explosion is Firestone was the result of underground gas lines, pressure mounted quickly on lawmakers and the industry to respond. Friday House Democrats introduced a bill to make maps of all underground oil and gas operations accessible to the public, land planners and state regulators.

Read the full story here.