By Mark Jaffe – The Denver Post
Oil and gas drilling has swept off the plains and into the Colorado statehouse, fueling battles between the industry and community advocates and potentially between Gov. John Hickenlooper and his fellow Democrats in the legislature.
Drilling for oil and gas has nearly doubled on the Front Range since 2006, sparking local concerns and seven legislative bills — with more possible.
Some bills focus on the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, the agency overseeing oil and gas development. The measures seek to boost inspections, increase spill reporting, raise fines and limit industry influence.
Others seek to buttress the role of local government in overseeing oil and gas development.
“As drilling has moved closer to neighborhoods, this has become a bigger and bigger concern,” said Rep. Su Ryden, D-Aurora, who is working on a bill to clarify local land-use powers in oil and gas development.
Meanwhile, the scale of drilling is reaching new proportions in Colorado.
In 2013, the two largest operators in the region, Anadarko Petroleum Corp. and Noble Energy, are poised to spend more than $3.2 billion on Front Range oil and gas development and drill about 650 wells.
The discretionary portion of the state’s budget, by comparison, is about $8.2 billion.
For Hickenlooper, who supports oil and gas development and maintains that the state has sole control over regulating drilling, the Democrat-sponsored and -supported bills create a dilemma.
“I am very sympathetic to communities that are seeing a changing landscape and are worried about an industrial activity within a thousand feet of their homes,” Hickenlooper said in an interview. “But what are you going to do, take away everyone’s mineral rights?”