Hundreds expected at hearing on new oil, gas rules |

Hundreds expected at hearing on new oil, gas rules

Associated Press Writer
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

DENVER (AP) ” Colorado’s record natural gas boom took center stage Monday in downtown Denver, far from some of the state’s most intense drilling and production.

At least 400 people showed up for the first in a weeklong series of hearings on rules proposed to protect public health, wildlife and the environment as well as promote development of Colorado’s abundant gas reserves.

“I’m here to oppose the rules,” said Clint Straley of Loveland, who sat with a group of people wearing Anadarko Petroleum hats and yellow stickers on their shirts that read, “Please Don’t Rule Us Out.”

Straley, who said he has worked in the oil and gas industry for 10 years, said he worries the proposed rules will hurt jobs.

State Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass, urged the commission to take the long-term view and protect Colorado’s air and water, which she said make the state a good place to live.

“It is time that we balance the rhetoric with reality, that we have an industry with oversight and that operates responsibly,” she said.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Association, a trade group, objected to holding the Denver hearing in the Paramount Theatre, saying its 1,800 seats might not be enough. The group was also unhappy that public testimony was limited to four hours.

“We believe this is a deliberate attempt by the Commission to limit public participation in this public meeting,” Meg Collins, the association’s president, wrote in a letter dated June 17 to state officials.

The rest of the time Monday is set aside for state and local officials, industry representatives, landowners and environmentalists.

State lawmakers ordered regulators to revise the rules for energy development to pay more attention to the impacts on health, wildlife and environment, as well as getting oil and gas out of the ground quickly and efficiently.

The change comes amid a boom in oil and gas drilling, propelled by record prices and strong demand.

Colorado issued a record 6,368 drilling permits last year, six times the 1999 number, and state officials say more could be approved this year. Tens of thousands of new gas wells are expected on federal land alone over the next 20 years.

The industry argues that the state Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, the main regulatory body, has exceeded its mandate and is threatening a multibillion-dollar industry important to Colorado’s economy. If enacted as proposed, the new rules could lessen companies’ interest in the state, according to trade groups.

“The level of involvement by companies that are here or potential new entrants ” their enthusiasm is being dampened by the uncertainty these regulations have produced,” Collins said.

Dave Neslin, acting director of the state oil and gas commission, said he has seen the industry’s investment in Colorado increase, not decrease. New companies have moved in, others are stepping up their business and acquiring more land.

“Companies are continuing to invest in Colorado and we hope they will continue to do so,” Neslin said.

The state commission also faces questions from landowners, environmentalists and hunters and anglers who support tougher rules. They fear recommended changes to the proposals would dilute protections for wildlife, people living near oil and gas wells, and air and water quality.

“What we’re seeing now is backpedaling even before the rulemaking process has a chance to play out,” said Jeremy Nichols of Denver-based Rocky Mountain Clean Air Action.

Neslin disupted any attempt to weaken the proposals. He said the suggested modifications released last week resulted from discussions with the various parties and are aimed at balancing several different interests.

State regulators held five statewide meetings in January on preliminary proposals, followed by dozens of sessions on specific topics before releasing the draft rules March 31. The oil and gas commission, appointed by the governor, is expected to vote on the rules in August.

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