When Gov. John Hickenlooper convened the Task Force on State and Local Regulation of Oil and Gas Operations in 2014, the intent was to improve the sometimes fraught relationship between local entities, which have some control over where and how gas and oil development occurs, and the state of Colorado, which is primarily in charge of the activity. Given the inherent tension of this arrangement, underscored by state law that both separates mineral rights from surface ownership and then clearly affirms mineral rights owners’ ability to access their subsurface property, it is not particularly surprising that the task force failed to produce major reform recommendations after its seven-month tenure.
Rather, the group that comprised industry, local and state government representatives, and environmental and public health interests, made relatively limited progress toward better balancing state and local regulation over gas and oil activity. A bill that would require the gas and oil industry to share its development plans with affected cities and counties reflects one of the group’s recommendations. The Legislature should pass it.
House Bill 1430 would require gas and oil companies to notify towns and counties of their plans – by giving a good-faith estimate of the number of wells and other facilities planned for a community within five years, as well as a map of the companies’ existing, permitted and planned facilities. This is a wholly sensible and reasonable requirement that Rep. Steve Lebsock, D-Thornton, is right to pursue.
HB 1430 goes beyond the task force’s recommendation by including counties in the definition of “affected local governments” that should be notified of industry plans. While concerns about gas and oil development have amplified as the activity entered more densely populated communities on the Front Range, counties have borne the primary challenge – and benefit – of hosting the activity for decades. They should absolutely be included in planning future gas and oil development.
Because municipalities and counties govern land use within their boundaries, it is appropriate for these entities to have advanced knowledge of what is in store for their communities. With that knowledge, cities and counties can work with industry to reduce impacts to surface owners and plan community growth with gas and oil infrastructure in mind. It will take an element of surprise out of the equation – for neighborhoods, city and county planners, and would-be residents, among others.
It would be difficult to make an argument against House Bill 1430, which is a simple and reasonable measure that would provide communities with essential information about activities that will affect their residential, commercial and environmental climates. Surely some will try, though, but the Legislature should bear in mind the critical dialogue that HB 1430 can help foster between the gas and oil industry and the communities where it operates.