Crowd sounds off on proposed rules for Colorado oil, gas industry |

Crowd sounds off on proposed rules for Colorado oil, gas industry

Phillip YatesGlenwood Springs correspondentAspen, CO Colorado

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo Harris Sherman began the hearing by asking people who were standing shoulder to shoulder near the exits to move. The Grand Junction Fire Department told Sherman, the executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources and a Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission member, that those people blocking the doors posed a safety concern.The only problem was that they had nowhere to go. An equally packed crowd of people stood around all the walls of the Two Rivers Convention Center auditorium in Grand Junction, and every seat was taken.Thousands of people flooded the convention center Tuesday to sound off about proposed rules the commission currently is drafting for the states oil and gas industry. The vast majority of the crowd estimated to be around 1,200 to 2,000 people, according to the Grand Junction Police Department and others was oil and gas workers, many of whom wore stickers proclaiming, Dont rule us out and Oil and Gas feeds my family.A large contingent of those who spoke before commissioners during the public comment hearing Tuesday blasted the proposed rules. State legislators also warned the nine commission members that any rules they approve will have to be reviewed by the state Legislature and that they should not expect them to be rubber-stamped. The first 20 speakers at the hearing Tuesday criticized the proposed rules, with each one earning a round of applause from the largely pro-industry group.Laura Bradford, a Collbran resident running to represent state House District 55 in the Legislature, told commissioners to slow down in their rule-making process, adding that the last oil and gas industry rules rewrite took several years to complete.I would love to have a drill rig on my front yard and earn the royalties that come with it, said Bradford, earning some of the loudest applause from the huge crowd in the convention center.The is drafting new rules for the states oil and gas industry because of house bills 1298 and 1341, which require the agency to consider best management practices to better protect the states wildlife and public health. The Legislature passed those bills last year.Dave Neslin, acting director of the commission, said since western Colorado is the epicenter of the current energy boom, it was appropriate for the agencys commissioners to bring its public comment hearing to Grand Junction. He said he knew that there would be a large outpouring of industry workers at Tuesdays hearing, but that approval of the new rules will not be based on a popularity contest.Change brings fear, he said. We are proposing several changes. We need to work through that concern.

Sen. Josh Penry (R-Grand Junction) was one of the first speakers, and he set the tone for the rest of the hearing on Tuesday by criticizing the commissions draft rules. He singled out for criticism a proposed 90-day drilling restriction to protect wildlife areas in western Colorado. Never, never did the general assembly promote or authorize a 90-day energy shutdown, Penry said.That rule drew some of the most opposition at the Tuesday hearing and is one of the largest concerns for natural gas companies operating in Garfield County. Several speakers called the rule a 90-day moratorium on drilling.However, natural gas companies can avoid the drilling restriction if they consult with the Colorado Division of Wildlife and the commission to propose alternative mitigation on a well-by-well basis or through a landscape approach with a comprehensive development plan. Companies also can avoid the rule by limiting their density through directional drilling, Neslin said.Many of the speakers said the 90-day drilling restriction rule could pose serious economic consequences to communities on the Western Slope and pose serious burdens to smaller operators in the area. EnCana Oil & Gas (USA) has already cut back on its planned wells this year compared to last year and has reduced capital expenditures in the state in the shadow of the proposed rules.We have seen Black Sunday, and we dont want to go back, Penry said to thunderous applause. He was referring to the oil shale bust of the early 1980s when Exxon pulled out of region, sending the local economy into a tailspin.

Larry Warnke, who is based out of Grand Junction and works for the oil and gas company Complete Production Services, said he had great concern over the rules, adding that the two-minute time limit for public commentators wasnt enough.That is why he felt sorry for several people who traveled from Trinidad to Grand Junction to offer their opinions about the draft rules, he said. I ask this commission to listen to these people today and take this back to our capital, said Warnke, alluding to the withering criticism that dozens of industry workers, mineral owners and others offered Tuesday. Remove this process away from the special interests and the political agendas.Duke Cox, the former interim executive director of the Western Colorado Congress who spoke only for himself on this occasion, was the first one to speak in favor of the proposed rules after about 25 speakers. He said that he was probably the only person not paid to be here.I think it is clear to most commissioners that you have heard that there is a great deal of misinformation about what these rules will do, said Cox, referring to previous speakers.Cox, who participated in dozens of meetings the commission held earlier this year before it issued its draft rules, said he would like to see the draft regulations strengthened to increase setback requirements. The proposed rules call for 150 feet. Cox wants to see that figure increased to 1,000 feet.Technology available to industry [is there] to reach thousands and thousand of feet, Cox said. It is not necessary to park a rig 150 feet from someones back door.Linda Romer Todd, a Grand Junction City Council member and real estate broker, said the commission should slow down its rule-making process. They should do that so commissioners can hear from residents who have concerns about how the rules could affect their lives and their businesses instead of shoving the rules down their throats. She also blasted the proposed 90-day drilling restriction.Oil and gas rigs cannot work on a part-time basis. It affects the community, Todd said. Our communities cannot work on a part-time basis.But Josh Joswick, a 12-year county commissioner in La Plata County, said there has been rhetoric that the industry will leave the state and be damaged irreparably with the proposed rules. However, he said there are consequences if the state doesnt approve the new rules. If we in Colorado are serious about our future, we need to do more than what we are currently doing at the state [level], Joswick said.A second public comment hearing, which will last just through the morning, will take place June 23 in Denver.