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Colorado House approves oil and gas rules

Steven K. Paulson
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

DENVER ” The Colorado House approved strict rules for the oil and gas industry on Thursday over objections from Republicans who warned the rules will cripple one of the state’s biggest industries.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission drew up the rules at the direction of the Legislature, which wanted more protections for public health, private property and the environment.

In December, the commission approved 100 new or amended rules, which go into effect April 1 if approved by the Legislature. State officials say the regulations balance industry and environmental interests.

National conservation groups following the energy boom in the Rockies are watching what happens to Colorado’s regulations. Trade groups argue the rules will increase costs and wait times for drilling permits and that uncertainty about how the rules will play out have led companies to reduce investment in Colorado.

The House votes one more time on the bill ” no change in outcome is expected ” before it goes to the Senate.

Republicans won a small victory Thursday when Democrats supported changes to a rule that would have allowed the Division of Wildlife and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to appeal decisions to the commission, where they also have seats.

“You have a situation where parties are appearing in front of themselves,” said Rep. Bob Gardner, a Republican from Colorado Springs who led party opposition to the rules.

Democrats said their only duty was to determine if the rules met the statutory authority lawmakers granted the commission. They said they would leave it to the commission to fix the problem when it meets in May for emergency rulemaking.

The commission applied for the emergency rulemaking to fix another rule that requires oil and gas operators to consult with the Colorado Division of Wildlife on minimizing adverse effects to wildlife.

Dave Neslin, the oil and gas commission’s acting director, said there were two conflicting rules on wildlife. One made it clear the Division of Wildlife must consult with the operator, the surface owner and the commission, while the other said an operator must consult with the commission, the surface owner and the Division of Wildlife.

Neslin said the only difference between the two rules was the order in which those entities are consulted.

Republicans seized on the mistakes to question whether the rules are ready for prime time, but Democrats rejected an amendment that would have delayed the rules for a year.

Republicans also demanded that Gov. Bill Ritter fire Neslin and his boss, Harris Sherman, but Ritter refused.

Rep. Kathleen Curry, a Democrat from Gunnison, said homeowners have complained for years about environmental problems caused by Colorado’s oil and gas boom and she said it’s time to address water and air quality issues.

“People will be there after oil and gas has come and gone,” she told her colleagues.

Outside, about 300 oil and gas workers, many wearing patches saying “Don’t rule us out,” rallied against the regulations. They said the rules are already costing jobs as oil and gas companies seek states with less regulations.

Rob Cose, who works for Petty Construction in Grand Junction doing utility work in gas fields, said cafes, bars and supermarkets are feeling the financial strain as drilling companies move out.

“It’s not just oil and gas,” Cose said.

Elaine Urie, who owns a trucking company near the Utah border, said she had to lay off four of 13 workers because of a sharp drop in oil and gas drilling. She said previous booms and busts were caused by nature but that this bust is self-inflicted.

“Those lawmakers don’t understand. They’re driving people away,” she said.


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