Groups voice support for Colorado oil, gas rules
August 2, 2008
DENVER ” In the ongoing debate over sweeping new oil and gas regulations, about 70 conservation groups and outdoors businesses are running newspaper ads backing a Colorado law that mandated some of the changes.
An ad printed in Denver and Grand Junction newspapers Friday thanked Gov. Bill Ritter for supporting the Colorado Wildlife Stewardship Act law passed unanimously by the Legislature last year.
The ad acknowledges the oil and gas industry’s importance, but adds that “drilling must not jeopardize what makes Colorado such a remarkable place to live.”
Radio and newspapers ads by two trade groups in June warned that the rules would threaten the oil and gas industry. The campaign by the Colorado Oil and Gas Association and the Colorado Petroleum Association singled out proposals intended to protect wildlife, saying the regulations would shut down drilling several months out of the year and throw thousands of people out of work.
The industry-funded ads ran before and during several days of hearings on the proposed regulations. The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, the main regulatory body, is expected to vote on the rules by the middle of this month.
The proposals would implement the wildlife act and another law revamping the way oil and gas operations are conducted in the state.
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“They’re using a scare tactic to try to gut the rules,” said Dennis Buechler, referring to the industry groups’ ads.
Meg Collins, president of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, said the message in the conservationists’ ad is untrue.
“We as an industry take great pride in our efforts to balance our responsibility to supply energy to Colorado and the country while protecting the environment, wildlife and public health,” Collins said in an e-mail.
Buechler and other members of the Colorado Wildlife Commission approved a resolution July 10 expressing appreciation for state regulators’ hard work and time. But the wildlife panel also asked them to consider expanding the number of waterways and wetlands where buffers would be established to restrict oil and gas operations.
The proposals would require the oil and gas commission to consult with state health and wildlife experts in some cases. The commission would have the final say. The goal is to consider oil and gas development’s potential impacts on public health and safety, the environment and wildlife.
State Sen. Dan Gibbs, D-Silverthorne, sponsored the wildlife bill. He said legislators, industry representatives, environmentalists, hunters and anglers worked together on the legislation. The decision was to get into detailed requirements through rules rather than the law, meaning the public could participate through hearings and testimony.
“This was a consensus, bipartisan bill, a real common sense bill,” Gibbs said.
So, he said he’s surprised by the acrimony and people “digging lines in the sand.”
“As chief sponsor of a bill that passed without one ‘no’ vote, I just think it’s important that we listen to all concerns and that the commission work really hard to find a balance,” Gibbs said.
Supporters of the proposed rules say it’s time that Colorado, in the middle of a natural gas boom, update its oil and gas regulations. The state issued a record 6,368 drilling permits last year and the total is expected to increase this year.
Industry officials, workers and some legislators and business owners say if adopted, the rules would make it more costly for companies to operate in Colorado, possibly lowering companies’ investment in the state and reducing jobs.
“The gas resources are worth trillions of dollars. They’re not going anywhere,” Buechler of the state wildlife commission said.
He added that he understands the pressure that state officials face while trying to balance the competing interests.
“All we can do is hope that they continue to do the right thing,” said Buechler, a retired U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist.