Elections matter. This is a refrain that has never had more meaning in Colorado than during this past legislative session. The 2018 election brought in a wave of progressive Democrats who took control of the Capitol with an ambitious agenda. They were ready to pass legislation affecting insurance, healthcare, employee/employer relationships, drug pricing, family leave, landlord tenant relationships, climate change and more. With the trifecta control of the Capitol—the House, Senate, and Governor’s office—the Democratic Party was in charge and their agenda was put into motion.
The 2018 election also brought forth conflicting messages for the oil and natural gas industry. There was a decisive victory in defeating Proposition 112 at the ballot, while at the same time voters supported candidates who pledged to rein in the industry. Making good on their promise, House and Senate leadership introduced SB 19-181 which turned 65 years of statute and case law on its head to direct a profound change in energy production in Colorado. The primary focus of the bill was to repeal Colorado’s long held state preemption of local regulation and to redefine the role and mission of the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission to prioritize health and protection of the environment above all else.
Following the rapid passage of SB 19-181, the legislature turned their attention to another priority issue, addressing climate change. Two bills were introduced to address greenhouse gas emissions. One, SB 19-096 was a greenhouse gas inventory bill, modeled after a federal reporting rule. This bill requires the Air Quality Control Commission to promulgate rules requiring greenhouse gas-emitting entities to monitor and publicly report their emissions. The second bill, HB 19-1261, was an ambitious promise to reduce greenhouse gas pollution and directed the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission to pass stringent regulations to achieve these goals. Together these pieces of legislation seek to redirect Colorado’s economy to be powered by one hundred percent renewable energy by 2050.
As with many of the issues being debated this year, there was little stakeholder process prior to introduction of the bills, and the subsequent stakeholder process was hurried and brief with requests from the traditional energy production sector being largely ignored.
Now that one of the most turbulent legislative sessions has come to a close, what happens next? The immediate future for oil and natural gas means new rulemakings on everything from wellbore integrity and reductions in air emissions, to a rehashing of the recently passed flowline regulations. In 2020, some legislators may introduce bills addressing the demand side of energy, fundamentally changing how homes are heated by examining the possibility of converting millions of natural gas home heating furnaces to run on electricity or heat pumps.
Governor Polis boldly stated that the passage of SB 19-181 would bring an end to the oil and gas wars. In reality, conflict will continue, but in different ways. In order to thrive, the oil and natural gas industry has to be ready to share their story in a way that resonates with supporters, potential supporters, and voters. We have to meet voters where they are. We have to get involved in communities where we live. We have to visibly and actively participate in our government.
We need to become stronger activists for our industry and the Colorado way of life.
There is an old saying, “when legislators feel the heat, they see the light.” We have to turn up the emotional heat to make our government see the light. That does not mean anger. But it does mean passion. Passion for your home, passion for your children, passion for your work, passion to make a difference against those who would take it all away. Get out there and listen to others. Relate to their questions about safety and health, and make sure your story is heard at town halls, city council meetings, county commission meetings, candidate forums, and most of all in the next election. Energy production should not be as partisan as it has unfortunately become. It’s up to us to get off the bench, get in the game, and make a difference.