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Apr 12, 2013 10:22 AM by Maddie Garrett

Lawmakers aim for tighter restrictions on oil and gas industry

Some state lawmakers want tighter regulations on the oil and gas industry in Colorado. There are several bills being considered in the legislature. One of those proposals is to increase fine minimums from $1,000 to $15,000 for everyday a violation exists. The fines have been in place since the 1950's.

But a report by a Fort Collins newspaper showed few fines have been waged against oil and gas companies, even though, more than 3,800 citations for violations have been issued since 1996. Of those, only 270 resulted in a fine so far and 112 were for $2,000 or less. The average fine was $22,000.

"$15,000 per violation per day sounds like a big increase, but when it hasn't increased in 50 something years it's not that bad," said Representative Mike Foote, D-Lafayette.

Foote is proposing another bill as well, and oil and gas drillers aren't the only ones who could see tighter regulations. The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) is the focus of House Bill 12-69.

"They're really the commission that we have to go to in order to make sure public health, safety and welfare is protected. And part of the reason people are not confident in them is because of these conflicts of interest," said Foote.

The conflicts of interest he's talking about deal with commissioners disclosing any financial ties they have to the oil and gas industry, and the COGCC's mission itself, which states: "it is to foster the responsible development of Colorado's oil and gas natural resources."

"When you're promoting what they (companies) do as well as regulating what they (companies) do, I think that creates a tug of war that's sometimes hard to resolve," explained Foote.

The COGCC referred us to Todd Hartman, a spokesman for the Colorado Department of National Resources, for comment on Foote's bill. Hartman released this statement from the Department:

"The bill language still needs major fixing. We continue to have serious concerns because it goes well beyond the Commission's current conflict of interest rules. We look forward to working on the bill in the Senate to ensure that we have a workable process for evaluating potential conflicts."

Foote said what he wants, is to see the COGCC refocus its mission on public health, safety and welfare.

"It's a very controversial topic all around the state, Western slope, El Paso County, the front range and so forth, so the folks in Colorado are asking us to do this and that's what we're trying to do," he said.

Oil and gas lobbyists have said regulations must do two things, protect the environment but also protect the business climate by not being overly punitive.

Foote's bill on the COGCC passed in the House and now moves to the Senate. The bill concerning fines is set to be heard in the House still.

There are a few other bills being considered as well. A House committee will hear two bills, one would allow local governments to charge for drill-site inspections. Another proposed bill would commission a study of whether front range drilling operations can harm human health.

 

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