Energy industry’s grumbling unwarranted |

Energy industry’s grumbling unwarranted

Residents of drilling country in Garfield County aren’t likely to sympathize with the energy industry regarding its complaints that it was left out of the initial process to rewrite rules for oil and gas development.

For decades, those residents were the ones whose concerns often were being ignored because of state rules that put a priority on getting oil and gas out of the ground, with too little regard for the consequences on public health, rural lifestyles, property values, the environment and wildlife.

Now, thanks to legislation passed last year, the state is trying to strike a better balance between oil and gas development and these competing interests. It also has finally expanded the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission and reconstituted it to reduce industry representation on the panel regulating that industry. And that loud squawking you’re hearing is grumbling from an industry long used to getting things its way in Colorado, while affected residents have sometimes felt powerless to limit some of the impacts.

The industry has griped about supposedly being left out of the process of coming up with a pre-draft proposal of rules to be considered in the rule-making. State regulators contend the industry was consulted, but either way, the industry’s complaint is a stretch. We’re not talking about final rules, or even draft rules, but an initial proposal that was put forward for public consideration, to help the state come up with draft rules that themselves would be subject to extensive review.

The state had to start somewhere. So it offered something for discussion, and since then it has subjected its proposal to a very public process in which everyone, industry included, has had all kinds of opportunity to comment. The vetting process has worked in the sense that all sides have been able to identify what they like and dislike, and as a result the state should be able to eventually produce a final set of rules that take those comments into account and strike an acceptable compromise.

As they proceed, however, state regulators should pay close attention to lawmakers who were involved in passing last year’s reforms and now believe the state is going too far in its proposed rules to implement the changes in law. The intent of the new laws wasn’t to throw the doors open to a wholesale regulatory rewrite, and the COGCC must be careful to stick to the legislature’s intent.

The energy industry’s economic contribution to the region is considerable, and its importance was made evident by the heavy energy worker turnout at the COGCC’s public hearing in Battlement Mesa about its rule-making process. But as for industry’s threat that rule changes and proposed increases in the taxes it pays could cause it to leave the state, we don’t buy it. While we appreciate what the industry means to the region, other states impose tougher rules and higher taxes on oil and gas development, and yet companies still thrive in those places.

Western Garfield County is rich in badly needed natural gas, and an increasing number of companies already are showing that, acting voluntarily, they can develop that resource in a responsible manner. The state can impose rules that will require more responsible development of industry as a whole while still keeping it economical for energy companies to operate here.

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