New rules will protect natural resources |

New rules will protect natural resources

Bob Elderkin
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

SILT” Four years ago, a dramatic drilling boom was sweeping across northwest Colorado’s landscape. And thousands of new wells and hundreds of new roads were on the drawing board. The threat to Colorado’s natural resource heritage, including our world-class wildlife, couldn’t have been clearer.

As a member of the Colorado Mule Deer Association and former Bureau of Land Management oil and gas regulator, I began work on a series of guidelines to protect our wildlife resource during the most intense energy development in state history. I collaborated with the Colorado Wildlife Federation in finalizing these guidelines.

We were then joined by a broad coalition of wildlife conservationists, local communities, ranchers and environmentalists then worked to implement our guidelines to protect Colorado’s natural and sustainable resources from the widespread, cumulative impacts of oil and gas drilling.

To be honest, I didn’t think much of our chances at the time. In fact, the odds of seeing the state implementing our guidelines were so long, I wouldn’t have bet a cup of coffee on winning at the start. We were taking on one of the best-organized and funded lobbying groups I’ve ever seen. Looking back, I should have thought more of our chances, because ” as it turned out ” we exceeded far beyond my expectations.

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After a long process that included the voices of thousands of residents and the vast input of the oil and gas industry, the Colorado state Legislature has finally approved a new series of common-sense protections, including some of the ones our coalition long sought, that will safeguard Colorado’s natural resources and public health during energy development. The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) adopted those new guidelines on a unanimous vote in early December.

These crucial protections for the future of Colorado would not have passed the state Legislature if not for the critical and courageous leadership of Colorado legislators, including Rep. Kathleen Curry, D-Gunnison and Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village. Both recognized the need for these safeguards because of the impact oil and gas drilling has had on Colorado.

Just last year, state records indicate there were 316 spills or releases from oil and gas facilities in Colorado. About 17 percent of those spills allegedly affected ground water resources, while 10 percent of the spills reportedly impacted surface waters in the state. And in 2008, oil and gas regulators issued about 248 citations to companies for violating the state’s current drilling rules.

Those infractions include the contamination of a Parachute-area outfitter’s spring water with benzene, a known carcinogen, and four major incidents that occurred at Garden Gulch, a tributary of Parachute Creek, during a seven-month period. That water supply is a major source of irrigation water for area ranchers and for the city of Parachute.

The oil and gas industry in northwest Colorado and throughout North America is caught in an unfortunate and brutal storm of low natural gas prices, abundant supplies, declining consumption, constricted credit markets, limited pipeline capacity and the worst economy seen in generations. But drilling will recover when the economy begins to improve. When that happens, these new rules will be critical when industry ramps up yet again to tap one of the nation’s largest natural gas deposits.

Colorado needs to be ready to protect the state’s vast natural resource based economies, such as hunting, fishing and wildlife viewing, that bring in close to $3 billion a year to the state and helps provide the livelihoods for 33,000 Coloradans. It is these industries that helped our communities recover from the oil shale bust of May 2, 1982. These sustainable economies will only grow in importance if we continue to be good stewards for a state that is one of the last, best places on Earth.

So I say thank you to Rep. Curry, Sen. Schwartz and other legislators who help win approval for these protections that are so important to Colorado’s future.

Bob Elderkin is a board member of the Colorado Mule Deer Association and a Silt-area resident.

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