8 major energy bills offered: 2 become law

The 2012-13 Colorado General Assembly session was challenging for the energy industry and those seeking reform. In the end, only two bills passed: one that increased the percentage of renewable energy that rural electric cooperatives must offer by 2020 and one that would require energy companies to report smaller oil spills.

The session started with eight major energy bills being introduced, most having to do with hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

“The most disappointing point of the session we found early on was the lack of discussion between some in the Legislature and industry,” said Doug Flanders, director of policy and external affairs for the Colorado Oil & Gas Association.

Rep. Mike Foote, D-Lafayette, who sponsored or co-sponsored three of the eight bills, had hoped to gain more ground reforming the oil and gas commission and the industry.

One bill that was successful, House Bill 1278, requires energy companies to report any oil spill of more than one barrel (42 gallons) to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission within 24 hours. The previous industry standard was five barrels. The bill was signed into law by Gov. John Hickenlooper on May 11.

Senate Bill 252 requires rural electric cooperatives, such as Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association and Intermountain Rural Electric Association, to generate 20 percent of their electricity from renewables by 2020. The previous standard required that renewables account for 10 percent of rural co-ops’ power portfolio.

For-profit power companies, such as Xcel Energy, already are held to a higher standard. They are expected to achieve 30 percent renewables by 2020, up from the previous benchmark, which was 20 percent.

Opponents of the bill expressed concern that the requirement would drastically increase the cost of electricity for rural customers, but the bill states that if electricity costs increase by more than 2 percent the standard will be reduced. Hickenlooper has come under pressure from industry to veto this bill. As of May 22, he hadn’t signed it into law.

Six bills, including one that would have reorganized the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission and dramatically introduced fines, were defeated:

n HB 1267, sponsored by Foote and Sen. Matt Jones, D-Boulder, would have increased oil and gas fines from $1,000 a day to up to $15,000 a day.

n HB 1269, sponsored by the same duo, would have reorganized the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission by disallowing anyone working in the oil and gas industry from serving on the commission and by removing the promotion of oil and gas production from the commission’s mission statement.

n HB 1275, sponsored by Rep. Joann Ginal, D-Fort Collins, and Sen. Irene Aguilar, D-Denver, would have required the State Board of Health in the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to issue a request for proposals to conduct a review of existing epidemiological data regarding the effects of oil and gas operations on human health in Larimer, Weld, Boulder and Arapahoe counties. An analysis of the data would then be reported to the general assembly by March 15, 2014.

n HB 1316, sponsored by Rep. Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, D-Boulder, and Sen. Jessie Ulibarri, D-Commerce City, would have eliminated the current groundwater sampling program in the Greater Wattenberg Area in favor of a new, as yet to be implemented, groundwater sampling program.

n SB 202, sponsored by Sen. Matt Jones, D-Louisville, and Rep. Jonathan Singer, D-Longmont, would have required the COGCC to use a risk-based strategy for inspecting oil and gas locations that targets the operational phrases that are most likely to experience spills, excess emissions and other types of violations.

n SB-284, sponsored by Hullinghorst and Sen. Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, would have required the Division of Administration in the Department of Public Health and Environment to provide for expedited air quality permitting for oil and gas operations for operators that certify that they will use pollution-control technology that meets enhanced environmental and human health protection standards as established either by the division through guidance or by the Air Quality Control Commission by rule. It also would have allowed the division to provide an analogous permitting schedule and enhanced standards for water quality permitting either by the division through guidance or by the Water Quality Control Commission by rule.

Next year, political observers expect the election-year session to be even more charged, as on-going concerns over fracking and oil and development near urban areas continue to trigger calls for more regulation and environmental oversight.

“What we’re hoping for after this session is a lot more discussion, more collaboration,” said Flanders. “We’ve seen it in bills that we did support. You can never get to ‘Yes’ on everything, and when we couldn’t we have to say ‘No.’ Let’s get away from polarization of oil and gas. What is the root of the question and what is the root of the problem?”