Last-Minute Partisan Squabbling Blocks Oil Pipeline Safety Legislation

Last-Minute Partisan Squabbling Blocks Oil Pipeline Safety Legislation
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In the final days of the legislative session, state Democrats and Republicans blocked each others’ attempts to earn political kudos with oil pipeline safety legislation — though the two plans differed substantially in their aims.

On Monday night, two days before the legislative session ended, House Republicans filibustered a bill that would have required oil and gas operators to disclose the locations of existing pipelines and plans for construction of new pipelines. Five Republicans spoke until the deadline for the bill passed at midnight, just half an hour after it hit the floor for debate.

If passed, the bill would have required oil and gas operators to locate and map all pipelines, big or small, and disclose that information to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), which would then make the data public on its website.

Democratic representatives Mike Foote and Steve Lebsock sponsored the proposal after a pipeline in Weld County leaked into a home before igniting, killing two, hospitalizing another and leveling the home. Inspectors found that the inactive pipeline had not been properly sealed.

The initiative was “a commonsense next step in the process,” says Lebsock, that works “hand-in-glove” with Governor John Hickenlooper’s order last week to inspect pipelines within 1,000 feet of occupied buildings and ensure that all abandoned lines are properly cut and sealed.

On Tuesday, House Democrats turned the tables and blocked a Republican effort that would have included the governor’s order in a massive energy bill that had gained momentum after rushing through the Senate.

Among other provisions, the Republican energy plan — which failed at the buzzer even after the pipeline section was removed — would have repealed key environmental policies and changed the title of the Clean and Renewable Energy Fund to the Energy Fund.

In a statement, Representative Ray Scott, the primary sponsor of the Republican bill, wrote, “Less than 24 hours ago, Democrats were saying that something must be done to reassure the public about gas line safety, but today, apparently because this proposal was made by Republicans, they decide that it’s not.

“It’s appalling to see Democrats obstructing legislation that’s not just supported by the governor, but would have given communities around the state some additional peace of mind,” he added.

The pipeline section in the Republican proposal would not have required mapping or location of pipelines, and would have only applied to buildings within 1,000 feet of a pipeline.

In addition to mapping pipelines, the key issue for Democrats was making sure that two types of pipelines were regulated, whereas the Republican proposal would only have required the inspection of flowlines, which transport oil or gas directly from the well head. Democrats also focused on gathering lines, or the bigger pipelines that transport oil and gas to processing facilities.

“It is unclear in the state statute whether the gathering lines are even under the jurisdiction of the COGCC, and our bill extends that authority to the COGCC,” says Lebsock, citing overlapping federal and state jurisdictions.

“It is disappointing that a straightforward bill…was killed at the Capitol this year,” he continues, “and it is equally disappointing that the [proposed 1,000-foot setback bill] was killed. Both of these bills are commonsense bills that should have received support from industry and bipartisan support in the Capitol.”

In a statement, Colorado Oil and Gas Association President and CEO Dan Haley told Westword,“We need to see the results” of the governor’s order before “making rash political decisions.

“While we understand the sentiment behind HB 1372," said Haley, "we believe it would upset the rigorous inspection process announced by the state last week, and it ignores the countervailing public-safety risk that a poorly theorized mapping tool would create.”

The legislative session ended Wednesday, May 10, putting further action on either bill to rest.
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Grant Stringer has covered everything from high-powered energy politics at the Capitol to reproductive rights and homelessness. He can typically be found running to press conferences in the heat of the summer while playing Fugazi and Ty Segall songs as loud as is humanly possible.
Contact: Grant Stringer