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Legislators consider revision of oil and gas rules OK’d this week

Phillip Yates
pyates@postindependent.com
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado ” Several state legislators are already working on plans to possibly revise rules that the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) unanimously approved this week.

State Rep.-elect Laura Bradford, R-Collbran, said Thursday that she and other legislators are in “the absolute middle of the first draft” of a legislative proposal to address the rules.

“This is about jobs,” she said. “This is not a time to be chasing any industry out of the state. We are concerned about the stability of the energy companies.”



Bradford’s comments come on the same day that John Swartout, senior vice president for policy and government affairs for the Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA), said it was “fair to say that all options are on the table” for how the industry might respond to the new rules.

The fate of the rules is shaping up to be one of the most contentious issues the Legislature will face next year. The highlights of the new rules include a ban on new oil and gas facilities within 300 feet of public water supplies, an opportunity for state health and wildlife officials to consult on proposed oil and gas development and a requirement that mandates companies identify chemicals used in its drilling operations.



Sen. Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, the state Senate’s GOP minority leader, said Legislature’s role to review the rules is going to be a charge he and other legislators are going to “take very seriously.”

“I don’t think any direction has been settled on, but these rules will be at the top of the list of issues the General Assembly will deal with next year,” he said, adding there has already been some bipartisan conversations about the rules among state House and Senate leaders. “I think the impact of these rules on jobs, especially on the Western Slope, is really going to force this issue to the top of the agenda.”

Penry said while he voted for the legislation that cleared the way for the rules, he felt that Colo. Gov. Bill Ritter and the COGCC have taken it “so far beyond” what people asked for or wanted.

“And that is where it is our job to step up and get it right,” he said.

The COGCC drafted and approved new rules for the state’s oil and gas industry because of House Bills 1298 and 1341, which required the state oil and gas commission to expand its focus to consider public health and wildlife impacts and require the use of best management practices to minimize harm from oil and gas development. The state legislature passed those bills last year.

Rep. Kathleen Curry, D-Gunnison, who will serve as speaker pro-tem in the upcoming legislative session, said she doesn’t expect a rubber stamp approval of the new rules, but that she doesn’t expect a “whole rewrite” of them either. She said she was really pleased with the way the COGCC conducted its rule-making process.

“Our challenge will be to sort through the politics and the rhetoric and figure out whether the policy is good and to see whether it fits with our legislative intent,” said Curry, a sponsor of House Bill 1341. “So for me, there will be a lot of deference to the (COGCC), but I won’t shy away from our legislative role, which is oversight on the executive departments.”

Sen. Dan Gibbs, D-Summit County, a chief sponsor of House Bill 1298, said the Legislature will have a robust discussion on the recently adopted rules next year.

“But from what I have seen, I think the COGCC has worked really hard to try and take all different groups’ concerns into play,” he said of the final rules. “(The rules) really reflect a consensus recommendation, and that is what I wanted to see.”

Sen.-elect Al White, R-Hayden, said a main concern he has is the effect the new rules may have on companies operating in the Piceance Basin. Nine companies have recently announced plans to reduce their drilling operations in the area.

“I have a feeling that industry is going to be significantly tightening their belt, and that is not going to be good for the economy that I represent and the citizens that I represent,” White said. “We need to be careful not to do anything to throw a chilling effect on commerce and industry. I want to make sure that the rules and regulations we end up with do not do that at this point in time.”

Dave Neslin, acting director for the COGCC, said the legislative review of the rules is an important part of the process and that “these are important rules for the state.”

“I am confident that the legislators will carefully consider the very thorough and extensive work that the commission has undertaken during the last 16 months and consider the very extensive record that we have developed as part of this process,” Neslin said. “Each rule was very carefully scrutinized, considered and assessed, and in many cases revised, to try to reflect a balanced approach that will allow the industry to continue to be successful in Colorado, but also provide additional protections to the environment.”

Swartout, the COGA official, said the rules will cost Colorado jobs and will cost the state investments from the oil and gas industry. He said the state already has the slowest drilling permitting process in the nation, and that new rules would only exacerbate that.

“So if you are in a boardroom right now, in a tough economic time, capital is tight, the price of natural gas is falling, where are you going to invest?” he asked. “I would argue that while a lot of people will walk away from this process and declare success, have they protected one more acre of wildlife habitat in our state?”

Evan Dreyer, a spokesman for Gov. Ritter, said the governor’s office was “extremely proud of the commission for the body of work it has produced.” He added that the rules are a model for the rest of the country.

Dreyer said he hoped that the controversy that swirled around the rules this year, which led to a contentious relationship between the governor’s office and the oil and gas industry, won’t appear when the Legislature reviews the rules.

“This is an important issue,” Dreyer said. “It has generated some heated rhetoric from industry. For our part, we are always willing to have healthy debate and we look forward to a healthy debate and an exchange of ideas and opinions. That is what the legislative process is about.”

Contact Phillip Yates: 384-9117

pyates@postindependent.com

Post Independent, Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO


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