EDITORIAL: Colorado legislators nail it by pledging public safety, local control of oil-and-gas rigs


EDITOR’S NOTE: Colorado state Democrats introduced Senate Bill 19-181 Friday afternoon. Click here for a copy of the bill as introduced.


Finally, Colorado looks like it’s going to get an oil-and-gas regulation policy that really does fit everyone.

State Democratic lawmakers and Gov. Jared Polis yesterday announced they will offer a state bill that rightfully turns control of critical petroleum-drilling operations over to local governments, where it belongs. Just as important, the measure would, reportedly, ensure the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission would ensure its focus is on the safety of health and the environment, not profits.

Colorado’s untenable system of trying to create a one-size-fits-all drilling setback for a state as varied as its residents could finally come to an end.

For years, this newspaper and others have backed critics of a powerful state regulatory panel whose priority was not to ensure safety of residents and workers in an industry rife with potential disaster. Instead, the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission’s stated job is to “foster” oil and gas development.

That ludicrous mistake became glaring a few weeks ago when Colorado’s Supreme Court ruled against a group of young state residents demanding the state consider the health effects of drilling near their homes and schools. The high court threw out the case because current law says that when the state is regulating drilling and fracking, health, the environment and the impact on an oil company’s bottom line all get equal consideration.

No other industry enjoys the legal protection to undermine human health and destroy the environment for the sake of company profits. It’s obscene.

If the bill is introduced as promised by Democrats on Thursday, the measure would end what is essentially the oil industry’s carte blanc to manage drilling and fracking with even more liberty than the federal government has under eminent domain.

Oddly, all the ballyhoo by Democrats over this important and overdue measure precedes the bill itself, drawing suspicion to an issue that must be solved with clarity and accountability. A measure like this should have been accompanied all of the critical details.

But the philosophy of giving local governments the power to overrule the state’s useless, arbitrary 500-foot setback between humans, critical waterways and drilling rigs is solid. Local planners must be able to ensure this and any industry is compatible and safe for the community.

While critics are already forecasting economic doom from this measure, we have no doubt a deep-pocketed petroleum industry will find ways to drill for oil and gas in Colorado and still ensure public health. But more important, human life is not worth less than oil-company profits and jobs, ever.

A credo that makes public safety and local control a priority is not only common sense, it makes good business sense for the petroleum industry. As Aurora and other Front Range communities spell out their concerns, petroleum companies can reliably plan for the need to protect the community and environment from real health threats and those considered nuisances, as well.

Like many others, we look forward to seeing how details and compromise with activists and industry representatives work to create an overdue solution to Colorado’s longstanding oil-and-gas regulation problem.

This petroleum regulatory measure really does fit everyone in Colorado, because it ensures every drilling rig in the state is a good fit where it operates.