Bill to significantly increase fines for oil and gas spills clears House, heads to Senate

April 24, 2014, 9:15 am
natural gas rig

A natural gas rig in Mesa County (David O. Williams photo).

A bill aimed at significantly upping fines for oil and gas spills and other violations of Colorado law by drilling companies overwhelmingly passed out of the Colorado House of Representatives this week and is now being considered by the state Senate.

Sponsored by state Rep. Mike Foote, D- Lafayette, the bill represents another shot at legislation that failed late in the session last year. It passed in the state House by a bipartisan vote of 40-22 on Monday.

“In addition to increasing the maximum fines available, we should ensure the system provides a legitimate deterrent to companies that consider cutting corners,” Foote told the Rocky Mountain Post late last year.

“A big part of that means addressing the work-arounds the industry has been using for years to avoid significant fines. I’m hopeful the industry will accept the need for those things and support a strong bill.”

Foote’s latest attempt at increasing fine amounts has the support of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, the Colorado Oil and Gas Association (an industry trade group), Conservation Colorado and other conservation groups around the state.

HB 1356 (pdf), which is now being considered by the Senate Local Government Committee, allows for a maximum fine of $15,000 per violation per day as opposed to the current limit of $1,000 per violation per day. The bill also eliminates the current $10,000 cap for violations that do not significantly impact public health, clarifying that companies will be penalized for every day a violation occurs.

“Right now companies can negotiate and be penalized for a lower number of days,” Foote said in a press release. “If you break the rules for 30 days, you should be penalized for 30 days.”

The state’s chief regulatory agency under the DNR — the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) — will be required to hold a hearing if it finds evidence of gross negligence or willful misconduct, and the state agency can then prohibit new drilling permits or suspend permits that have already been issued.

The COGCC must also post a quarterly online report listing violations and penalties that have been assessed.

“Colorado has some of the lowest fines for oil and gas violations in the entire country,” Foote said. “This bill incentivizes good behavior and holds operators who break the rules accountable.”

It remains to be seen whether the bill can make it out of the Senate, where some Republicans have vowed to fight legislation viewed as anti-energy development. Voters in four Colorado cities last fall approved so-called “fracking bans” to prevent the drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing.

“They’re sure to be emboldened by the passage of those fracking bans, and I get that feeling that … they want to bring more restrictions on the oil and gas industry up in the legislature,” Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray, told the Rocky Mountain Post before the session began. “I don’t think that they’re going to pass, but they’ll bring them up.”

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David O. Williams
David O. Williams is an award-winning freelance reporter based in the Vail Valley of Colorado, writing on health care, immigration, politics, the environment, energy, public lands, outdoor recreation and sports. His work has appeared in 5280 Magazine, American Way Magazine (American Airlines), the Anchorage Daily News (Alaska), Aspen Daily News, the Aspen Times, Beaver Creek Magazine, the Chicago Tribune, the Colorado Independent, Colorado Politics formerly the Colorado Statesman), Colorado Public News, the Colorado Springs Gazette, the Colorado Independent (formerly Colorado Confidential), the Colorado Springs Independent, the Colorado Statesman (now Colorado Politics), the Daily Trail (Vail), the Denver Daily News, the Denver Post, the Durango Herald, the Eagle Valley Enterprise, the Eastside Journal (Bellevue, Washington),, the Glenwood Springs Post-Independent, the Greeley Tribune, the Huffington Post, the King County Journal (Seattle, Washington), (northern Colorado), LA Weekly, the London Daily Mirror, the Montgomery Journal (Maryland), The New York Times, the Parent’s Handbook, Peaks Magazine (now Epic Life), People Magazine, Powder Magazine, the Pueblo Chieftain, PT Magazine, Rocky Mountain Golf Magazine, the Rocky Mountain News, Atlantic Media's (formerly Government Executive State and Local), SKI Magazine, Ski Area Management, SKIING Magazine, the Summit Daily News, United Hemispheres (United Airlines), Vail/Beaver Creek Magazine, Vail en Español, Vail Valley Magazine, the Vail Daily, the Vail Trail and Westword (Denver). Williams is also the founder, publisher and editor of and

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