DENVER (CBS4) - Colorado lawmakers are debating a bill this week that would make tampering with oil and gas pipelines a felony.
After President Donald Trump's approval of the Dakota Access and Keystone pipelines, anything political having to do with pipelines is going to be controversial. But the lawmaker carrying this bill, Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, insists the measure isn't directed at people who want to protest pipelines but rather those who want to alter the pressure in them, something he says could lead to a deadly explosion.
Some recent cases have emerged in some Western states where activists enter drilling sites and change the pressure on pipelines. Some have videotaped the act and posted it online.
Sonnenberg, a Republican who represents Sterling and the area around it, says while it hasn't happened in Colorado, it's a new and growing form of protest and there's little to deter it in Colorado.
The group behind the #ShutItDown movement has displayed video online of such protests. Such a crime would currently be considered a misdemeanor in Colorado. It would be a felony with the bill under consideration.
"Peacefully assemble all you want. Gather around the property, carry your signs, do whatever you want to make your point but do not go onto private property and cut lines to change the pressure of valves on oil and gas (sites) and put your own communities in danger," Sonnenberg said.
Randy Chase is among those opposing the bill. He told CBS4 it's meant to intimidate and silence protestors.
"People willing to commit civil disobediance in protest of policy or project shouldn't be saddled with felony," he said. "I think the existing laws are adequate to protecting oil and gas operations. It's not like we see activists blowing things up."
Sonnenberg says it's only a matter of time.
"You are messing with something, you have no idea on the ramifications," he said.
Dozens of people signed up to testify on the bill Thursday. It passed through the Senate Agriculture Committee on a 6-to-5 party line vote. CBS4 Political Specialist Shaun Boyd said she expects it to pass the Republican controlled Senate but to struggle in the Democratically controlled House.
for more features.