Afternoon Headlines May 3, 2017

The fatal home explosion in Firestone two weeks ago has plunged government leaders, industry members and Colorado residents into a statewide conversation about the health and safety of oil and gas development.

In back-to-back press conferences yesterday, the Frederick-Firestone fire department and the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, or COGCC, blamed the fatal explosion, which killed two and severely injured another, on a cut and abandoned gas line that was for some reason never capped.

Since January, the severed line, which started from the wellhead and ended six feet from the Firestone home’s foundation, leaked odorless gas into the soil, where it seeped into a French drain and then the basement through the sump pump. The dangerous buildup of volatile propane and methane finally ignited on April 17.

Governor John Hickenlooper has called for a statewide review of all oil and gas operations, and the COGCC says it is exploring regulatory next steps. Operators like Anadarko, which owns the well in question, have shut off thousands of wells to do further inspection of wells and related equipment.

Regulatory change has proven elusive in Colorado. Journalist Dan Glick, writing for The Colorado Independent, reports that the oil and gas industry is increasingly behaving like the National Rifle Association: It vigorously opposes any legislation which it perceives as an inconvenience to its industry.

Glick cites two recent examples. The first is the April 12 defeat in a Senate committee of a bill to measure mandatory 1,000-foot setbacks for new oil and gas facilities and wells from school property lines, rather than school buildings. Industry opponents said the bill would cause significant financial losses, even as they acknowledged that very few existing or proposed sites would be affected by the larger buffer zone.

The second is the heated industry opposition to a bill that would require companies to give more notice to homeowners whom they want to sign away their mineral rights. The bill passed the House, but is expected to die in the so-called Senate “kill committee” this afternoon.

Next year, unaffiliated voters —the state’s largest voting bloc—for the first time will be able to help choose the Democratic or Republican nominee in a Colorado governor’s race while still remaining unaffiliated.

Voters last year passed a ballot measure allowing those who choose not to join a political party to participate in the party primaries. Unaffiliated voters, however, can only pick one primary to vote in— they can’t vote in both. And here’s something those non-party people should know: The primary they choose could become public information.

Colorado’s Republican Secretary of State, Wayne Williams, is pushing for such disclosure as he develops rules to implement the new law before the 2018 statewide gubernatorial primaries. He says such transparency is about voter integrity. “No one has a right or ability to know how you voted, but they have a right to know in what election you voted,” Williams told The Colorado Independent.

But not everyone thinks it’s a good idea. “I think people are unaffiliated because they don’t want that tag, don’t want that label,” says Amber McReynolds, an unaffiliated voter who is Denver’s director of elections.

Williams says he hopes to have rules about the new open primary law available for public comment by the summer. The primary for the 2018 governor’s race will be the last Tuesday next June.

Outspoken Eagle County Schools Superintendent Jason Glass is the sole finalist for the superintendent position in Jeffco Public Schools, the state’s second largest district and one that has experienced political upheaval in recent years.
The Jeffco school board called a special meeting Monday to affirm the pick after two days of interviews with six applicants last week.

Jeffco board members at Monday’s meeting spoke highly of Glass.

“I know it sounds funny, but I really was inspired,” said board member Susan Harmon. “And I needed to be inspired.”

Glass has been superintendent in Eagle County since 2013. Before that, he was Iowa’s Director of Education. Glass would not start the job before the summer.

Former Jeffco superintendent Dan McMinimee is still under contract with the district until the end of June, although his role was redefined so that he could step down after the board announced they would launch a search for his replacement.

Jeffco has more than 86,000 students, of which about 31 percent qualify for free or discounted lunch and about 8 percent are English learners.
Glass frequently writes editorials for the local newspaper, voicing urgency on the need to increase school funding in Colorado.

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