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Colorado Senate gives initial backing to oil and gas rules

Colleen Slevin
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

DENVER ” The Colorado state Senate gave initial backing to new regulations for oil and gas regulations on Tuesday over the objections of Republicans, who said they could further hurt an already struggling industry.

The bill containing those rules and other, more routine state regulations (House Bill 1292) passed in a voice vote but still must pass a second, recorded vote.

Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, said drilling has already declined in the West during the recession and argued the rules could hurt the industry in Colorado even more.

He said lawmakers would be eager to give incentives to any other industry that was ailing rather and said Colorado should follow the lead of New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson in modifying its rules.

“Oil and gas is a second-class citizen in this building, in this administration,” said Penry, who is considering challenging Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter in next year’s election.

Sen. Jennifer Veiga, D-Denver, countered that the rules Colorado is poised to impose are on par with the modified rules New Mexico is now living under. She also said the commission wisely imposed some wildlife and water restrictions on the Western Slope because it has more sensitive wildlife habitat but exempted the Plains from those rules.

Penry had accused Ritter’s administration of playing politics by excluding some parts of the state from parts of the rules.

“That’s not arbitrary and capricious. That’s smart, that’s efficient,” Veiga said.

The new rules were drafted under legislation passed by state lawmakers in 2007 directing the commission to consider the effect of drilling on wildlife and the environment in regulating drilling. At the time, the energy industry was booming.

Technically, lawmakers are now reviewing the rules only to make sure the commission stayed within the legal bounds of the 2007 legislation. But the debate at the Capitol has focused largely on whether the rules should be scaled back or changed to prevent the further loss of jobs during the economic downturn.

Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, said the new rules are needed to protect the state’s environment, which is also part of its economy, as well as its residents. She held up a photograph of mountains near Aspen and another showing household tap water on fire because of gas that had seeped into a home.

Penry, who backed the bills that set the regulations in motion, said he agreed with rules protecting water quality and the environment but said other rules would weaken private property rights.

He proposed an amendment that would have tripled the fines for noise and odor violations and increased the distance required between wells and water supplies in exchange for weakening other parts of the rules.

One of the main changes Penry offered would have barred the commission from requiring that wells be placed in a certain part of a property if surface rights owners objected.

The amendment failed in a 21-12 party line vote. Two Republicans were excused.

The amendment would have also changed one a rules that allows the state health department and state wildlife officials to appeal commission rulings on drilling. Veiga said the commission has already scheduled a hearing next week to consider changing that rule in response to criticism.


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