Commission OKs wildlife rules | AspenTimes.com

Commission OKs wildlife rules

Phillip Yates
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) on Tuesday tentatively approved a series of wildlife rules for the state’s oil and gas industry.

The entire set of wildlife rules, which had been the focus of immense controversy during the state’s current rule-making process for the oil and gas industry, passed on a 8-1 vote Tuesday.

The commission also began preliminary deliberation on pit and waste rules.

Commissioners are expected to review those rules again in late October.

Once that is done, they could be in a position to possibly make a final decision on the rules they have tentatively approved in early December. During seven hearings in August and September, commissioners have initially endorsed about 87 rules for the state’s oil and gas industry.

One of the most contentious wildlife rules the commission deliberated Tuesday would require companies to avoid certain activities, like construction, drilling and completion, and laying of pipeline in “restricted surface occupancy” (RSO) areas.

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Those areas would be where bighorn sheep reproduce and bald eagles nest. It would also encompass areas within 300 feet of any stream that is home to Colorado cutthroat trout or 300 feet within any stream or lake designated by the DOW as “gold medal.”

Companies could avoid the RSO rule if they work with the COGCC director, demonstrate that wildlife is not present in the targeted drilling area, gain an exemption from the DOW or develop a comprehensive drilling plan for the area.

Companies could also possibly avoid it if they show that it’s not technically or economically feasible to comply with the rule.

That RSO rule received the tentative endorsement of the commission on a 5-4 vote.

Commissioner Tom Compton said much of his opposition to the RSO rule was focused around the possible impact to surface owners.

“I do believe we are treading on thin ice relative to property rights,” Compton said.

Commissioner Mark Cutright said he thought the RSO rule was not the “right solution.”

“I am not saying species don’t need protection,” Cutright said. “I just see that this is fraught with problems.”

Commissioner Harris Sherman said legislation passed last year, which led to the current rule-making process, gave the COGCC the “latitude” to approve the RSO rule.

“I do think it is a balancing act,” he said. “The species that are being protected under this act are very important species. If we are not vigilant in how we protect them, we could have some serious problems down the road.”

Sherman added if the RSO rule creates problematic situations with landowner rights, the commission will have to review it at a later time.

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