Colorado oil and gas regulators say proposed rules are reasonable |

Colorado oil and gas regulators say proposed rules are reasonable

Steven K. Paulson
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

DENVER ” Oil and gas regulators told lawmakers on Wednesday that new rules they are drafting are reasonable, and they rejected suggestions they would cause prolonged delays in energy projects.

Lawmakers were skeptical and warned that the preliminary proposals, if approved, could allow drilling opponents to demand hearings that would take years to resolve.

“This is a complete rewrite of the rules,” said Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Yuma.

Harris Sherman, executive director of the state Department of Natural resources, said many of the new requirements could be met simultaneously and could actually reduce the time required to apply for drilling permits.

“I believe the commission is acting in a very balanced way,” Sherman told lawmakers.

Wednesday’s meeting came after Republican and Democratic lawmakers sent Gov. Bill Ritter a strongly worded letter saying that proposed regulations for oil and gas production are “unacceptable” and would cripple the industry, which brings in $23 billion a year and employs 70,000 people in Colorado.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, which his part of Sherman’s department, is implementing two laws passed by the Legislature last year that change the way the state oversees the industry.

The laws require more people from outside the oil and gas business to regulate the industry. They also require companies to follow best management practices and require the commission to consult with state health, environment and wildlife officials on the potential impacts of development.

Legislators were surprised when Sherman told them he needs 12 more full-time employees to inspect wells and enforce the rules, noting that he told them last year he could do it with his current staff.

Sherman said the number of permits being issued has soared from 1,002 in 1997 to 6,400 last year, putting a strain on the department.

Industry officials said they are worried the proposed rules could cripple oil and gas development.

“If the rules are adopted the way they are, it will greatly impact our development and exploration activities,” said Meg Collins, president of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association.

Industry officials also said they were left out of discussions on the new rules, but Sherman said they were given ample opportunity over the past few months to participate.

Environmentalists said the industry has had plenty of time to work on the new rules, including more than 120 hours of public meetings.

“If the oil and gas industry wanted more access to the rule-making process, they’d have to date Harris Sherman,” said Elise Jones, director of the Colorado Environmental Coalition.

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