Colorado legislators and Wyoming regulators are looking at different ways to tighten oversight of their states’ oil and natural gas drilling.
Colorado legislators have approved two bills. HB 1267, passed by the state House and now moving to the state Senate, would increase penalties for oil and gas operators responsible for damaging the environment, eliminating the current maximum cap of $10,000 for fines. Separately, the Senate passed to the House SB 202 that would implement a risk-based approach to inspection programs.
The bill’s sponsor Rep. Mike Foote told reporters that the measure is aimed at irresponsible oil and gas operators and would hold them accountable. Foote argued the bill will also “protect Colorado jobs” as well as the public health and the state clean air/water quality.
The Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA) said it was not consulted on the measure before it was introduced, but it plans to work with legislators to refine the measure.
“As noted in COGA’s testimony during the committee hearing, we will continue to work with the sponsors on the legislation,” a spokesperson told NGI. “Oil and gas regulations must work to both protect the environment and the business climate by encouraging best practices without being punitive. There are over 107,000 Colorado men and women whose jobs are supported by the industry; our families are passionate about protecting the communities in which our families live, work, and play.”
As currently drafted, SB 202 would require the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (OGCC) to use a risk-based strategy to identify factors most likely to contribute to spills, excess air emissions and other types of violations, according to its author, state Sen. Matt Jones. Senate officials said the risk-based approach would lead to more comprehensive OGCC inspections. However, the bill does not mandate 34 new inspector positions for the state’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) as it did originally.
“We’ve been on the record a number of times to indicate our willingness to further refine our inspection protocols and prioritization for inspection,” DNR spokesman Todd Hartman told NGI. “With additional legislative direction, we’re glad to know members of the General Assembly share in this goal.”
Meanwhile, Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) Air Quality Division (AQD) Administrator Steve Dietrich said the state plans to amp up its compliance checks of drilling production facility engines to determine how well technology is being used.
Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead last week characterized the compliance checks as a chance for the industry to show how well it is doing in complying with environmental regulation, while still producing ample energy. The compliance checks now in place have been in effect since 2011. “DEQ has done these compliance checks statewide,” Mead said. “These checks show that industry is doing well at implementing important technologies that reduce emissions while producing oil and gas that fuel the nation.”
DEQ plans to go “above and beyond” AQD compliance and permitting requirements, said Dietrich. He emphasized that the engines already have passed state and federal air permitting requirements, but the additional checks provide “real world” data on the environment, weather conditions, etc.
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