Polis names new group to control Colorado oil and gas rules

Gov. Jared Polis on Monday named a new, five-member commission to take over crafting and putting in place major changes to Colorado’s oil and gas regulations, as the multibillion-dollar industry struggles with a global pandemic and slump in demand for energy.

The new, permanent board at the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission will replace the nine members who for the last year have been overseeing implementation of Senate Bill 181, a sweeping reform of the state’s mineral extraction laws that puts public health and environmental considerations ahead of production.

The bill required that a professional commission be appointed by the governor by July 1 of this year.

“These new appointees will build upon the progress the volunteer commission has made thus far, and the professionalization of these roles is an important step for streamlining the process and increasing regulatory efficiency in Colorado,” Polis said in a statement Monday.

One of the members of the new commission is COGCC’s director, Jeff Robbins, who will serve as chair of the new commission. He said Julie Murphy, chief of staff and senior policy adviser with the agency, will take over as director on July 1.

The other four members of the commission have a mix of expertise in public health, the oil and gas industry, the environmental community and local government land use issues. They are:

Priya K. Nanjappa of Lakewood is director of operations at Conservation Science Partners Inc.

Karin L. McGowan of Lakewood is deputy executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Gunnison County Commissioner John Messner, who serves on the existing commission, will bring a local government perspective.

Attorney Bill Gonzalez of Denver is a former land manager for Occidental Petroleum.

Robbins will retain his director salary at $161,700 while the other four commissioners will be paid $150,000 annually in their new roles.

The COGCC’s volunteer commission has been working on strengthening regulations for oil and gas activity in Colorado for the past year or so, starting with requirements last November for testing and ensuring the integrity of flow lines and making sure out-of-use lines are shut down properly.

That was followed in December with the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission’s approval of rules calling for more frequent inspections of oil and gas equipment statewide, with a special provision for homes and schools within 1,000 feet of well sites.

Earlier this month, the commission OK’d rules dealing with the well bore — the hole that’s drilled to access oil or gas — as well as the pipes and casings installed to inject fluids to make fractures in rocks and sand and bring up the minerals. The casings and cement that are part of the construction are also meant to ensure that no fracking fluids, oil or gas escape and flow into groundwater.

Robbins on Monday said there is plenty more rule-making to be done by the new commission over the next year or two and the next hearings are already scheduled for August and September.

SB 181 also gave local governments more authority to pass their own rules on oil and gas activity within their boundaries.

Oil and gas production in Colorado has become a hot-button issue in recent years, especially as new wells have been drilled near neighborhoods in and around the metro area. Lawmakers passed SB 181 after Democrats took over both chambers in the legislature and Polis, a Democrat, became governor last year.

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