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New bill targets oil and gas industry

DENVER State reviews of oil and gas exploration proposals could be changing, one legislator says, if a new bill headed to the state House of Representatives gets past its current delays.Gov. Bill Ritter’s staff is preparing a bill, sponsored by State Rep. Kathleen Curry, D-Gunnison, that would make significant changes in the makeup of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, the state body that oversees gas and oil exploration.Curry said Thursday that the bill is on hold to allow more negotiation between the governor’s office and the oil and gas industry. The bill was supposed to be introduced Thursday, at which time House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, D-Arapahoe, would assign it to a committee. However, the governor’s office decided to delay introduction in order to talk further with industry representatives.”It’s going to be controversial,” said Curry, who tried for her first two years as a legislator to pass a bill calling for fair compensation for landowners affected by oil and gas development. She gave up on that effort in April, in the face of stiff industry opposition and lack of support among legislators, and said she has no plans to reintroduce it this year.The new bill expands the board’s membership from the current seven positions to nine, and takes a step toward “strengthening its mission” by changing the commission’s mission statement.Currently, according to the COGCC website, the mission statement reads: “To promote the responsible development of Colorado’s oil and gas natural resources [which is defined as, ‘The efficient exploration and production of oil and gas resources in a manner consistent with the protection of public health, safety and welfare; the prevention of waste; the protection of mineral owners’ correlative rights; [and] the prevention and mitigation of adverse environmental impacts.'”Curry said the new mission statement would tell the COGCC that “your job is to regulate the oil and gas industry, not to promote it.”Promotion of the industry’s interests, she said, has been essentially codified into the commission’s work, which she feels conflicts with government’s role in protecting the welfare of all citizens.Incorporated into the bill, she said, is an expansion of the commission’s role, calling for it to consult with several state agencies to study impacts on wildlife, the environment and local communities.”It [the commission] could do that [consult with those agencies] now,” she said, “but it chooses not to.”The bill also would reduce the number of commissioners who can be directly linked to the industry. According to Curry, five of the seven commissioners, a hefty majority, are aligned with the industry, meaning that “they [the industry] essentially, for all practical purposes, regulate themselves.”Under the new rule, she said, only three of the nine commissioners could have direct ties to industry.Curry acknowledged that the bill, if it passes, would make it more expensive for the commission to do its work. To pay those additional costs, the bill proposes levying fees against the industry.”I think the reason we re not addressing these issues is because of the setup of the commission,” Curry said.She stressed that current commission members are “not doing anything wrong” and are following the Legislature’s directions.”We do, in my opinion, have the fox guarding the henhouse,” she said. “And until it’s corrected, we can’t expect a lot of improvement” in how the state deals with the oil and gas industry and its impacts.Efforts to reach the governor’s office on Thursday were unsuccessful.John Colson’s e-mail address is jcolson@aspentimes.com


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