Hickenlooper gets Dems to flip, kills two bills to regulate oil and gas

Politics

State crews testing groundwater at the Williams Energy gas treatment facility in Parachute, Colo. where a hydrocarbon leak was discovered in March.

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DENVER — Two more pieces of the Democratic oil and gas legislation package are dead, and they never really had a chance.

It’s been known for weeks that House Bill 1316, which would require oil and gas companies in the Greater Wattenburg Area to abide by the same groundwater testing regimes as the rest of the state, didn’t have much of a chance to pass the Senate.

On Monday, the Senate killed the measure when three Democrats joined Republicans in voting it down.

Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, opposed the measure outright, arguing that the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission had voted unanimously in favor of the new water testing rules last year, rules he’s since heralded as the strongest and best in the country.

Environmental groups, irked by Hickenlooper’s opposition to much of their oil and gas legislation, noted that if the rule was indeed as strong as the governor says it is, the Greater Wattenburg Area should have to abide by it as well.

The COGCC argues that the region should have a more lenient testing standard because of the volume of wells in the area — if the statewide standard were applied to GWA, there’d be more testing than is necessary.

A couple hours later, H.B. 1269, which changes the mission of the COGCC and reorganizes the makeup of the nine-member commission, also bit the dust.

Hickenlooper opposed it and lobbyists and staffers around the Capitol had been referring to the legislation in the past tense.

Monday evening, five Democrats — the three who voted against H.B. 1316 plus Sens. Linda Newell of Littleton and Gail Schwartz of Snowmass — joined Republicans in killing that measure.

The death of both bills puts even more pressure on lawmakers to save the last surviving oil and gas bill, H.B. 1267, which would increase fines for spills and other environmental mishaps.

Alan Salazar, Hickenlooper’s Chief Strategist, and House Majority Leader Dickey Lee Hullinghorst have been negotiating on that bill for much of the day Monday.

Hullinghorst is upset that the Senate, at the governor’s behest, took out the provision that would have set a $5,000 mandatory minimum daily fine; she’s considering whether to reject the Senate’s changes and send the bill to a conference committee to possibly work out a deal.

Hickenlooper, the former geologist who many Democrats believe is actively working to advance the oil and gas industry’s interests, has said that he’s in favor of increasing the fines — the current bill increases the maximum daily fine to $15,000 and removes an overall cap on the amount of fines that can be imposed.

And he needs a win on an oil and gas bill, something he can use to demonstrate a measured, balanced approach in this policy area.

But environmentalists believe the mandatory minimums are an important piece of the legislation; and they may be playing a longer game on the issue, content to force Hickenlooper to sign or veto the bill with the mandatory minimum fine and willing to introduce the legislation again in 2014, just months removed from an election when the governor’s name will be on the ballot.

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