Colorado Senate OKs Ritter choices for oil. gas panel over GOP objections |

Colorado Senate OKs Ritter choices for oil. gas panel over GOP objections

Colleen Slevin
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

DENVER ” A divided Senate approved the governor’s appointments to the newly reorganized Oil and Gas Conservation Commission on Monday, with Republicans arguing that at least two of them could vote to severely restrict production, leading to higher energy prices.

All 15 of the Senate’s Republicans voted against environmental consultant Richard Alward of Grand Junction and Garfield County Commissioner Tresi Houpt, with Sen. Josh Penry, R-Fruita, calling Houpt “the No. 1 enemy of the oil and gas industry on the Western Slope.”

“If we’re going to put a person who is extremely controversial, is extremely outspoken against the industry, in the catbird seat, what’s next?” Penry said.

Houpt, whose county is in the heart of western Colorado’s natural gas boom, was appointed by Gov. Bill Ritter to represent local governments on the commission, which has previously been dominated by people with industry experience. She said she opposes drilling on top of the Roan Plateau and an effort to drill near the site of an underground nuclear explosion from 1969. She also helped push for legislation at the state Capitol protecting the rights of surface owners.

“None of these things I believe would shut down the industry but it would put the industry in the position of being a partner rather than taking the lead in how things move forward in energy development,” said Houpt.

She said energy development has to be compatible with other parts of her region’s economy, including recreation and hunting. She said the construction of pipelines taking gas away from the Rockies may drive up prices more than any state regulation could.

While Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, said the commission needs someone like Houpt who “stands up in a strong way” for communities where drilling is occurring, other Democrats weren’t as emphatic.

Sen. Jim Isgar, D-Hesperus, said he didn’t necessarily agree with all of Haupt’s positions. Sen. Chris Romer, D-Denver, said serving on a commission responsible for making decisions affecting a $23 billion-a-year industry would probably have a “moderating” effect on Houpt. He said Ritter may have appointed Houpt as a way of appeasing critics of oil and gas development, who could have mounted a ballot initiative this year to restrict production.

“Sometimes what governors need is to bring an opponent into the tent to avoid a worse outcome,” Romer said.

Ritter spokesman Evan Dreyer wouldn’t comment directly on that but said, taken as a whole, the appointments reflect balance and diversity of viewpoints on the industry. He said Houpt had an understanding of how communities are impacted by oil and gas and contributes to that balance.

Haupt said she thinks she was chosen because of her familiarity with local, state and federal regulations on development from working in such a hotspot for the industry.

Dreyer said Ritter is committed to having a thriving industry which could keep save Colorado from the looming recession while also protecting the environment. He accused Republicans of trying “to make partisan hay out of a very important issue” during an election year.

Republicans also objected to Alward’s appointment because Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray, said Alward doesn’t believe land that has been drilled can be completely returned to its original state.

Joshua Epel of Greenwood Village was appointed in a 27-8 vote. Brophy said he feared Epel would be opposed to aggressive development of oil and gas although he acknowledged he didn’t have any proof.

Three members were unanimously appointed: Thomas Compton of Hesperus, Mark Cutright of Aurora and Michael Dowling of Denver. Compton, the former president of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association and a royalty owner, and Cutright, an industry veteran, are Republicans. Dowling, who is unaffiliated, has experience in environmental protection and once ran an oil company.

Ritter appointed all six members to the commission in July after lawmakers agreed to expand and change its makeup, a main goal of his first year in office. Before, all but two of the panel’s seven members had to have a background in the industry. Now there are nine members but only three must have industry experience.

The appointees have been serving on the commission pending the Senate’s confirmation. Next month, members are expected to receive new draft rules being written by state regulators. Industry groups say their expertise and experience has been ignored and earlier this year 11 lawmakers, including two Democrats, signed a letter saying they feared the rules would cripple the industry.


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