The Colorado Senate Wednesday approved legislation that calls for a greater number of nonindustry members to sit on a commission that regulates the state's oil and natural gas operations.

After a third and final reading of the bill (HB 1341) by the Senate, the measure is now headed to the state House, which has the option to reject the changes made by the Senate and call for a conference committee to reconcile the differences. If that happens, the General Assembly will be hard pressed to pass the bill during the current term, which ends in early May. The legislation cleared the House in late March (see Daily GPI, March 26).

The bill would cut to three from five the number of energy industry members on the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, while increasing the overall number of members on the panel to nine from seven.

The commission until now has been dominated by energy representatives, which has led critics to charge that the oil and gas industry was, in effect, regulating itself in Colorado.

The Colorado Petroleum Association (CPA) and the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, which initially objected to the bill, have taken a more neutral position. "We're not opposing the bill...We're close to being neutral," said CPA President Stan Dempsey.

He noted that the Senate leadership put together a working group that negotiated a number of changes to the measure. As a result, "most of the objectionable pieces came out of the bill," particularly with respect to the definition of waste. The producer groups were concerned that the original "waste" language would restrict oil and gas drilling.

It is "significantly improved in terms of what the bill initially said," Dempsey told NGI. He said the bill also sets a higher bar for the qualifications of the nonindustry members of the commission, requiring them to have "formal training or substantial experience" in their fields.

Under the bill, the new members of the commission would represent various fields, including environment or wildlife protection, soil conservation or reclamation, agricultural production and local government. Of the three oil and gas members, two would be required to have college degrees in petroleum geology or petroleum engineering. Two members would be from Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter's cabinet -- the executive director of the Department of Natural Resources, and the executive director of the Department of Public Health and Environment.

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