Oil, gas rules: wildlife debate still to come | AspenTimes.com

Oil, gas rules: wildlife debate still to come

Judith Kohler
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

DENVER ” Colorado regulators Tuesday endorsed involving landowners and local governments in a proposal to streamline the approval process for new oil and gas wells.

Some members of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission were concerned the process would bypass landowners and local officials, possibly dooming efforts to encourage companies to do more comprehensive planning.

The concern emerged as the commission resumed deliberations on new rules for energy companies.

The Legislature directed the commission to rewrite the rules to address concerns about property rights, public health and the environment amid Colorado’s natural gas boom.

Commissioners postponed until Sept. 22 a discussion of one of the more contentious topics, protecting wildlife.

Instead they focused on a proposal that would give energy companies the option of submitting a comprehensive plan for several wells over a large area rather than seeking approval for individual wells, as they do now.

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The comprehensive plan would include ways to reduce impacts on land, wildlife and other resources.

The sticking point for many commissioners was that the comprehensive plan wouldn’t require the involvement of landowners or local government officials. The commissioners argued that ignores the legislative mandate behind the overhaul of the rules and could result in challenges to the plans.

“In my view, this is only good if we have all the parties at the table,” commissioner Tresi Houpt said.

The goal of the comprehensive plans is to consider the cumulative impacts of development while giving companies more flexibility because they would be dealing with a larger area.

Commission member Mark Cutright said landowners and local officials should be notified that a plan is being written, but requiring their involvement could “muddle up the process” and discourage companies from choosing that option.

The panel gave preliminary approval to requiring that landowners where the drilling occurs and local government officials be given a chance to participate.

Commissioners postponed deciding how far wells and other oil and gas equipment should be from homes. The current setback is 150 feet for rural homes and 350 feet for high-density housing and such recreation areas as hiking trails.

A homebuilders’ group supports sticking to the existing standard, but some homeowners and environmental groups have suggested setbacks of 400 to 1,000 feet.

The commission backed a plan to take recommendations from a task force made up of various interest groups and make a decision by April.

“I’m very disappointed this wasn’t an issue that was covered,” said Houpt, who is a Garfield County commissioner.

Concerns about potential dangers of allowing gas wells and equipment near homes have been raised through the years and several comments were made during consideration of the new rules, Houpt said. Commissioners rejected her suggestion to approve a temporary 400-foot setback until a final rule is approved.

The panel, which is appointed by the governor, is expected to cast some preliminary votes during three days of deliberations running through Thursday. Final votes would follow changes by staff and commission members.

Proponents of the new rules say a revision is overdue because of Colorado’s energy boom. The state issued a record 6,368 drilling permits last year ” six times the 1999 total. State officials say at least 7,000 permits could be approved this year.

Industry representatives have warned that new regulations could idle thousands of workers, drive down production and reduce tax revenue from energy development.

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