Steamboat Springs State Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush’s bill designed to ratchet up reporting standards for oil well spills in Colorado passed out of the House Transportation and Energy Committee on Wednesday and moves next to the Appropriations Committee.
Mitsch Bush, D-Steamboat Springs, said Thursday that the bill would lower the threshold for requiring energy companies to report spills to a state agency to one barrel (42 gallons), down from the current standard of five barrels. Drilling companies would have to report the spill to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission within 24 hours of detecting it.
The bill, House Bill 13-1278, is co-sponsored in the Senate by state Sen. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora, and Mitsch Bush has received word from the governor’s office that Gov. John Hickenlooper would look favorably on it. Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose, joined Democrats on the Transportation and Energy Committee in voting for the bill.
Mitsch Bush, a former Routt County commissioner who heard contentious oil drilling permit hearings here through much of 2012, said her bill would result in faster cleanup response to spills, many of which result from steady leaks throughout time. It also would level the economic playing field for the energy companies, she said.
“Most of the really good operators are so diligent they are already reporting spills to the state,” Mitsch Bush said. “But some aren’t reporting spills until somebody else finds out.”
Oil spills have been in the news on the Colorado’s Western Slope early this year as investigators have worked to try to identify the source of of hydrocarbons leaking from natural gas liquids into Parachute Creek near the town of Parachute.
The Denver Post reported Wednesday that Williams energy company attributed the 10,000 gallon hydrocarbon spill to a failed pressure gauge. So far, cleanup crews have handled almost 6,000 gallons of the spill.
“Any kind of spill could have an impact,” Mitsch Bush said. “I didn’t want to be an extremist here. With chemicals like benzene, you can be talking about pollutants (measured) in parts per million. If you have to report it within 24 hours, something’s going to happen (to mediate the spill) quickly. If you wait until it reaches four or five barrels, it all adds up.”
In addition to requiring earlier reporting of spills leading to faster response times, Mitsch Bush said, the bill would establish a track record for operators.
Mitsch Bush, a first-term legislator, said she was impressed with the process she went through to vet her bill with state government stakeholders before it went to committee.
“I met with (Oil and Gas Commission Director) Matt Lepore and talked about it for at least 80 minutes, and (Department of Natural Resources Executive Director) Mike King was there for 60 minutes of that. It was great because we chewed things back and forth,” she said.
Mitsch Bush said that since 2010, the number of reported spills in Colorado has been in the 400s annually, and of those, 10 to 15 percent impact ground or surface water.
HB13-1278, which would result in a one-time expense of about $10,000 to the Department of Natural Resources, could go the the House Appropriations Committee as soon as Wednesday, and from there, it would go to the House floor for second reading followed by a third and final reading in the House. Should it pass, it then would start the process all over again with the appropriate Senate committee.
To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com