Colorado lawmakers to consider revising oil, gas rules |

Colorado lawmakers to consider revising oil, gas rules

The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

DURANGO, Colo. ” The latest attempt to revise oil and gas regulations before the Colorado Legislature is aimed at ensuring landowners’ rights as the state tries to minimize the effects of energy development on wildlife.

A bill by Sen. Jim Isgar, D-Hesperus, would give landowners the final say about wildlife on their land. If they don’t agree to proposed wildlife protections, companies could improve wildlife habitat somewhere else and still drill.

Two other bills that would have limited the scope of rules protecting wildlife were killed.

Critics of the proposed new oil and gas rules argue they would give state wildlife officials too much say in energy development. State regulators and supporters say the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission would make the final decisions.

The rules would implement two laws requiring more weight be given to the environment, public health and safety and wildlife when approving oil and gas development. The Legislature overwhelmingly passed the measures in 2007.

Isgar’s Senate Bill 229 attempts to clear up confusion about what rights property owners have under the new rules by giving them veto power over recommendations by the state Division of Wildlife.

“It kind of shifts the burden and gives the surface owner more power than he had,” Isgar said.

His bill could be heard by the Senate Local Government and Energy Committee as soon as Tuesday.

There are two sets of property rights at issue: the surface landowner’s and the mineral owner’s. Surface owners worry the regulations will force them to comply with Division of Wildlife mandates, and companies worry that landowners could use wildlife as an excuse to block drilling.

Companies that own or lease minerals have the right to the reasonable use of the surface to extract the minerals.

Dave Neslin, the oil and gas commission’s acting director, has said regulators can’t force private landowners to accept any restrictions. He has said if landowners object to conditions meant to protect wildlife, operators can be asked to adopt restrictions elsewhere.

About 60 former state and federal wildlife managers have urged legislators to approve the proposed oil and gas rules.

Last year, Colorado issued a record 8,027 drilling permits, nearly double the 4,323 approved in 2005. Most of the permits were for natural gas.

As the recession has deepened, though, companies say they are cutting back drilling. Several have announced plans to reduce spending or shift their focus elsewhere.

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