New oil and gas rules get initial Senate backing |

New oil and gas rules get initial Senate backing

Pete Fowler
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado ” Sen. Gail Schwartz held up a wilderness photograph taken from Aspen Highlands in the state Senate to symbolize what proponents say proposed new oil and gas rules will protect.

“This is what Colorado sells,” said Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village. “This is what we have at risk.”

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) rules won an initial verbal vote in the state Senate Tuesday over the objections of Republicans. The rules got the nod as part of a bigger rule review bill containing various state regulations. But the rules still must pass a second, recorded vote. Tuesday’s hearing was expected to be the last big fight in the legislature over the oil and gas rules.

The rules are designed to offer more protections for public health, wildlife and the environment. Critics say oil and gas drilling has already slowed down during the recession and the new rules will hurt one of Colorado’s largest industries and make the economy suffer even more.

Schwartz said the rules are needed to protect people and the environment.

“We have been overwhelmed with an industry that has grown very rapidly,” she said. She held up another photograph showing household tap water on fire because of gas that seeped into the plumbing.

“Did anybody get a chance to see the faucet on fire?” she asked. “This shows what it’s like for a homeowner and their children looking at the safety of those wells.”

Republicans argue that the COGCC exceeded its authority in crafting some of the new rules, which they say will kill jobs and hurt tax revenues in an already struggling economy and delay permitting times for drilling. They made an unsuccessful effort Tuesday to change some of the rules, increasing some protections and fines in exchange for doing away with other regulations.

“The industry has found that they’re inappropriate, and the economy is suffering because of that,” said Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray.

Others contend that’s not true, and drilling cutbacks are due to the price of natural gas and insufficient pipeline capacity to carry it to where it can be sold.

Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, said proponents of the bill are using scare tactics and trying to force legislators to choose between jobs and the environment. He said it’s no surprise that when “anti-drilling activists took control of the oil and gas commission” the proposed rules would take the wrong direction. He said drilling is down 55 percent in Colorado and 71 percent in the Piceance Basin, which is worse than other states, because of the proposed rules.

Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, said, “The difference is the industry knows that Colorado is heading down this road with this regulatory environment that is simply untenable. It is not simply business as usual. This bill means no business.”

He added later, “Job number one this year is jobs, folks, and this is the anti-job bill.”

Sen. Jennifer Veiga, D-Denver, said Lundberg’s assertions weren’t true, and rig counts in other states have declined in amounts similar to Colorado’s declines.

Penry said the rules are arbitrary. For example, a mule deer would be treated differently under the rules on the eastern plains than it is on the Western Slope under the new rules for political reasons, he said.

Veiga said it’s crazy to say the rules are arbitrary and the COGCC was as minimally restrictive as possible when mapping out sensitive wildlife areas.

“If we determined that the entire state of Colorado was a sensitive wildlife habitat that required some of these rules, you would be screaming,” she said.

The rules were drafted at the direction of lawmakers in 2007 when the energy industry was still booming.

Contact Pete Fowler: 384-9121

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