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COGCC reforms clear Senate

Dennis WebbGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. Landmark regulatory reform of the oil and gas industry could be headed to Gov. Bill Ritter’s desk for his signature by the end of the week.The Colorado Senate on Wednesday voted 29-6 to pass a measure that changes the mission and makeup of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.The bill already has passed the House of Representatives, which now will consider changes contained in the Senate version. The Western Colorado Congress, an environmental organization that supports the measure, is predicting that a final version could be delivered to Ritter before the end of the week to be signed into law.Passage of the bill has been a top priority for Ritter. It was drafted by Harris Sherman, Ritter’s executive director for the Department of Natural Resources.The bill would increase the COGCC board’s size from seven people to nine, while reducing the number of oil and gas industry representatives from five to three. The industry has said its representation is needed for reasons of technical expertise, but critics long have contended its domination of the commission resulted in a failure to adequately address complaints related to oil and gas development. The measure also would change the COGCC’s mission to put more emphasis on protecting public health and the environment. One of the COGCC’s board members would be the executive director of the state Department of Public Health and Environment.Others would include the DNR chief, and people representing the interests of environmental or wildlife protection; local government; agriculture/royalty owners; and soil conservation or reclamation.Duke Cox, president of the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance, which looks out for landowners’ interests on gas development issues in Garfield County, said the bill would be “very significant” in helping balance energy development against other interests.However, he is concerned by statements made by state Sen. Josh Penry, R-Fruita, that Ritter’s appointments to the commission would be subject to significant scrutiny.”If they have to go through Senate approval, you can look for a fight,” Cox said.Penry said the appointments are subject to Senate confirmation, but Cox need not worry.”I think there are some in the environmental community that need to learn when to claim victory. This is a sweeping rewrite (of oil and gas regulation) and they’re still grousing,” he said. “… I doubt very many other states have changed their oil and gas laws in one fell swoop as we just did.”Elise Jones, executive director of the Colorado Environmental Coalition, praised Penry along with Senate President Joan Fitzgerald and the bill’s sponsors, Rep. Kathleen Curry, D-Gunnison, and Sen. Jim Isgar, D-Hesperus, for brokering a compromise on the issue. “Colorado deserves a balanced approach to regulating the many impacts of the oil and gas industry,” she said in a news release.Penry said he doesn’t know many people who think the COGCC should be dominated by industry, but it’s also important that it not become anti-industry. Cox also said balance is important.”We don’t need radicals on this commission. We need people who are willing to put aside their personal feelings and consider the best interests of the public,” Cox said.The bill originally sought to eliminate current law that calls for oil and gas to be efficiently extracted and not wasted. Opponents of that law say such efficiency can come at the expense of landowners and the environment.Industry groups had opposed the bill but took a neutral stance after it was amended to retain the efficiency clause. Sherman agreed to the change because he believes the bill still will provide adequate consideration of environmental and health impacts of drilling.Curry also had sponsored a separate bill that sought to deal with health concerns, but Penry said that bill was dropped because those concerns will be addressed via the COGCC reforms. He said another bill aimed at protecting wildlife will move forward. However, the concerns raised by all the bills will be addressed in a single rule-making process that will result from the passage of the COGCC bill and will be subject to legislative review, he said.He believes that unified process should help alleviate industry concerns about the large number of bills that had been brought forward this year.Contact Dennis Webb: 384-9119dwebb@postindependent.comPost Independent, Glenwood Springs Colorado CO


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