Gas commission overhaul moves forward |

Gas commission overhaul moves forward

Colleen Slevin
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

DENVER ” More people from outside the oil and gas business ” including the state’s top health official ” would help regulate the industry under a proposal unanimously backed by a Senate committee Monday.

Harris Sherman, the state’s natural resources chief, helped negotiate changes to the original proposal ” a main goal of Gov. Bill Ritter this year ” that led the industry to drop its opposition.

The measure keeps Ritter’s main objective of broadening the makeup of the commission but many of the nuts and bolts of how health and environmental concerns could stop or slow production would be worked out later by the new commission.

Sherman said the measure (House Bill 1341) would be good for both the public and the industry, which he said provides both high-paying jobs and significant tax revenue to the state.

“We’re going to give greater attention to the variety of concerns that have been expressed by the public while we see this significant expansion of the oil and gas industry,” said Sherman, who would also serve on the overhauled commission.

He said the state expects to approve 6,000 gas permits this year, six times as many as were approved in 2000. Meanwhile, he said the commission’s focus on production first and its composition has left the impression that the industry is regulating itself.

Right now, all but two of the commission’s seven members must have a background in the industry. The bill would expand the commission to nine members by adding the directors of the natural resources and health departments but only three of its members would have to have industry backgrounds.

Commission chairman Peter Mueller, vice president of Saga Petroleum, said he was concerned about losing the technical expertise provided by people who work in the industry. Both he and another member of the commission currently working in the industry said they worked outside of Colorado to avoid any conflicts of interest.

Mueller said the commission responds to all safety complaints within a day and sends someone to inspect the well within 48 hours. While people have claimed their health has been hurt by oil and gas development, Mueller said more study is still needed to see if those cases are statistically significant.

The Colorado Petroleum Association and the Colorado Oil and Gas Association opposed the original proposal but are now taking a neutral position. The main reason is that lawmakers agreed to get rid of language that would have changed a provision in law which promotes the extraction of oil and gas in the most efficient way possible.

The industry feared that change was too broad and Sherman said it wasn’t necessary in order to allow the new commission to consider environmental and health impacts of drilling.

Greg Schnacke, the Colorado Oil and Gas Association’s executive vice president, said the industry is trusting that lawmakers won’t use the process to hurt the industry and will be watching as the new rules are set up.

“We’ve gotten to the point here where we’re going to work proactively on these issues going forward,” he said.

Carrie Doyle, executive director of Colorado Conservation Voters, said similar reform proposals have failed over the last 17 years but are moving ahead thanks to leadership from Ritter and lawmakers who organized meetings with the industry. She said those talks, which intensified last week, only advanced after lawmakers told the industry that something was going to pass this year.

“This is really historic legislation,” she said.

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