Colorado may delay new oil, gas rules on federal land |

Colorado may delay new oil, gas rules on federal land

The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. ” Colorado regulators are expected to delay enforcement of new oil and gas rules on federal land so they can consult with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management on how that will work.

The new rules are set to take effect on private land Wednesday and on federal land May 1.

But the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is considering delaying the start date on federal land so the state and BLM can work out the overlap between state and federal rules.

The commission met Monday but didn’t decide on an extension for federal lands. It meets next on April 20.

The new and revised oil and gas regulations carry out two laws requiring more consideration of the environment, wildlife and public health and safety when approving oil and gas development. The Legislature approved the laws in 2007 and passed the rules, written by the oil and gas commission, last week.

BLM spokesman Steven Hall said Tuesday that the agency has asked to meet with state regulators to go over the rules. He said he believes meetings have been scheduled.

Last summer, Colorado BLM director Sally Wisely urged state regulators to consider updating a long-standing agreement between Colorado and the BLM on oil and gas development to resolve any conflicts.

Industry representatives have questioned whether the state has the authority to enforce its rules on federal land. Colorado Petroleum Association President Stan Dempsey said during a recent legislative hearing that having two sets of regulations on federal land puts the industry in a difficult position.

State officials and proponents of the rules disagree.

“Federal constitutional law is pretty clear that state public health and welfare and environmental laws are allowed to apply on federal land,” said Michael Freeman, an attorney with Earthjustice who has represented conservation groups in hearings and deliberations on the new rules.

Freeman added that Colorado law allows the state to regulate oil and gas development on federal land.

The state issues the oil and gas drilling permits on federal land.

Federal officials have said in most cases, their wildlife protections and other rules are tougher than the new state rules. Environmentalists, though, argue that the BLM frequently waives regulations if companies ask.

Hall of the BLM said an analysis shows that the agency’s Glenwood Springs office, the busiest in the state, granted few temporary suspensions of wildlife protections in fiscal 2008. Preliminary numbers show that at least 90 percent of the leases didn’t have any exceptions.

The BLM’s policy is to confer with the Colorado Division of Wildlife before suspending rules, Hall said.

Glenwood Springs is in Garfield County, which led the state last year in the number of permits issued. It’s also home to some of the state’s largest big game herds.

Hall said he’s not aware of the BLM granting waivers in Colorado. He said waivers require an environmental analysis, while temporary suspensions of rules can be approved by a field office.

It’s not clear when Gov. Bill Ritter will sign the bill that includes the new oil and gas regulations. Some existing rules will expire if he doesn’t sign the bill by May 15, but the oil and gas rules will take effect Wednesday with or without his signature.

Ritter’s spokesman, Evan Dreyer, said Tuesday that the governor had not received the bill yet.

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