New Colorado oil and gas commissioners seated ahead of critical rulemakings

By: - July 9, 2020 11:49 am

Members of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission convened for a hearing on July 9. (screenshot)

More than a year after Colorado lawmakers passed Senate Bill 19-181, a landmark package of oil and gas reforms, large swaths of the new law still haven’t yet been implemented by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission — and now a new set of commissioners will finish the work that their predecessors started.

The COGCC’s new five-member “professionalized” voting panel convened for its first hearing on July 9, replacing the part-time, volunteer commission that was officially dissolved last week. The change was one of many required by SB-181, which gave more power to local governments to regulate oil and gas development within their borders and directed the COGCC to strengthen a wide variety of health, safety and environmental regulations.

“With professional commissioners, we’re now able to devote the necessary resources to protecting public safety, welfare, wildlife and the environment with regard to the oil and gas industry in a quicker, more efficient way,” Gov. Jared Polis said in a video message welcoming the new commissioners. “Your backgrounds, whether it’s public health, local government, environment, or industry experience, blend the best of the public and private sector in our new commission.”

Thanks in large part to delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the new commissioners begin their tenure with the COGCC behind schedule on several critical rulemakings required by SB-181. Those include the so-called Mission Change Rulemaking, named after a key provision in the new law that stipulates that the agency’s mission is to “regulate” oil and gas development, rather than to “foster” it, as the statute had previously stated.

[bctt tweet=”A small language tweak could result in dramatic, across-the-board changes to COGCC regulations and procedures” username=”NewslineCO”]That small language tweak could result in dramatic, across-the-board changes to COGCC regulations and procedures, from an overhaul of its permitting processes to stricter environmental and site remediation standards, according to draft rules published by the agency in June. The commission is currently gathering feedback from the oil and gas industry, environmental advocates and other interest groups, and is set to formally consider the rule changes at a series of hearings beginning Aug. 24.

The new commission, appointed by Polis last month, includes Bill Gonzalez, a former manager for Occidental Petroleum; Priya Nanjappa, a wildlife biologist; John Messner, a former Gunnison County commissioner; and Karin McGowan, the deputy director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Jeff Robbins, who previously led the COGCC as executive director, was named by Polis to chair the commission.

“We’ve got our work cut out for us,” Robbins told his fellow commissioners during the July 9 hearing. “We’re going to be hearing from a hundred different stakeholders with distinct interests — from the industry, from the environmental coalitions, from local governments, from neighborhood groups.”

“I think we’re poised to do some really amazing things for the state of Colorado,” he added.

Editor’s note: This brief has been updated with the correct spelling of Priya Nanjappa’s name.

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Chase Woodruff
Chase Woodruff

Chase Woodruff is a senior reporter for Colorado Newsline. His beats include the environment, money in politics, and the economy.