Colorado energy rules may see delay |

Colorado energy rules may see delay

Judith Kohler
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

DENVER ” Proposed oil and gas regulations intended to protect wildlife and vigorously opposed by the industry would be delayed until 2010 under recommendations from state regulators.

The regulations are part of a proposed overhaul of Colorado’s oil and gas rules amid a natural gas boom. State regulators Wednesday released what they called clarifications to the proposed rules, which the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is expected to vote on in August.

The suggested changes include giving companies until 2010 to comply with rules on minimizing the impacts on certain wildlife and habitat if the companies consult with state wildlife officials or submit comprehensive development plans. The original compliance date was Nov. 1.

Companies that don’t negotiate with wildlife officials or come up with development plans face restrictions of up to 90 days on when they can drill to protect wildlife during mating and birthing seasons.

The industry has assailed the proposed 90-day restriction as a moratorium that, according to a trade group’s statement, would require “all drilling west of (Interstate 25) shut down operations for three months out of the year.”

The recommended change didn’t blunt criticism from Colorado Oil and Gas Association, the group that issued the statement.

“I think it’s important to note that the state has made the claim before that they’ve made changes,” said Meg Collins, the group’s president. “It’s been more like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.”

Environmental groups said they’re concerned about what will happen to vulnerable wildlife if companies have longer to comply.

“Generally we support the idea that the goal of these rules is to encourage companies to consult, encourage planning,” said Michael Saul, attorney with the National Wildlife Federation’s regional office.

Saul said he’s concerned that delaying adoption of the wildlife rules will spur a rush in applications for permits in sensitive areas before the rules take effect.

The 90-day drilling restrictions were always considered a last resort if companies couldn’t agree with state wildlife officials on ways to minimize the effects of development on wildlife and habitat, said Dave Neslin, acting director of the oil and gas commission, the main regulatory body.

Companies can also avoid the timing limits if they submit comprehensive plans that include safeguards for wildlife.

Neslin said he recommended pushing back the compliance date for companies that take those steps to give them enough time.

“I don’t view it as a watering down,” Neslin said. “We always viewed the timing restrictions as a means to an end.”

A public hearing is scheduled Monday in Denver on the proposed rules, which would implement laws requiring that more weight be given to public health, wildlife and the environment when approving oil and gas development.

State regulators held public hearings across the state in January on preliminary rules and dozens of sessions on some of the technical issues in February.