In July, as the novel coronavirus roared around us, the typically embattled Colorado oil and gas industry saw surprise relief in the form of a political detente. Democratic governor Jared Polis told reporters that his legislation had joined forces with the oil and gas industry to put a halt to the annual ballot box slugfests. That meant in the year of COVID-19, Colorado’s most crucial industry would get some leeway. The gesture was seen as a win for bipartisanship in an increasingly polarized state.
The peace lasted for about six weeks(ish).
Taking the Fight to Court
At the time of his announcement, Gov. Polis said he didn’t want to overload the ballot with new measures. He explained that he wanted to give the previous legislation he signed into law “a chance to work.”
Apparently, that only meant putting a halt to Democratic initiatives at the ballot box. In mid-September, Colorado AG Phil Weiser announced that Colorado would join a lawsuit that challenged the Environmental Protection Agency’s reversal of several regulations enacted by the Obama administration. The decision was immediately hailed by Colorado’s Department of Public Health and the Environment.
The Devastating Setback
The decision to jump into the federal fight against energy isn’t the only bullet aimed at Colorado’s oil and gas companies. For the last several years, anti-energy advocates have put several controversial oil and gas initiatives on the ballot. All of them have been defeated. In fact, the backbone of Gov. Polis’ new energy policy — SB181 — was soundly crushed on voting day.
The governor chose to sign it into law, anyway.
Now, after agreeing to give the political fighting a rest, Gov. Polis’ revamped Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) is making a move to quadruple the states’ setback rule. A setback rule determines the distance that oil and gas projects can operate in relation to specific structures. The current legal setback limit is 500 feet. Under the new regulations, the minimum setback would be 2,000 feet.
The executive director of the American Petroleum Institute’s Colorado chapter Lynn Granger calls the move “unwarranted,” adding that it was clearly motivated by politics more than “sound policy.”
“Safety is our industry’s top priority,” said Granger, “and we firmly believe that the science proves existing setbacks are protective of public health, safety, welfare and the environment.”
Clearly, not everyone in the state capitol feels the same way.
At this point, Gov. Polis doesn’t have to do much to enact his climate agenda. The forced passage of SB181 allows the mechanisms he put in place to do the work for him.
Though he got credit for reaching across the aisle by calling off new ballot initiatives, it seems clear that the governor’s only goal was to take oil and gas out of the race. Indeed, while he’s technically kept his word about new initiatives, it seems that his administration is falling all over itself to continue to make life harder for oil and gas.