Oil, gas industry wants to split up proposed Colorado rules overhaul

Judith Kohler
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

DENVER ” Oil and gas companies want Colorado regulators to limit the proposals they’re considering as they update regulations amid record natural gas development in the state.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Association trade group says there’s not enough time to adequately study and respond to all the rules proposed by state staffers. The group submitted a request Thursday that some of the rules be considered this spring and summer and others be looked at later.

Hearings are scheduled for June on the comprehensive overhaul of how oil and gas developers so business in Colorado. The goal is to adopt the rules by mid-July.

“It’s too much to do in too little time,” Ken Wonstolen, an attorney for the trade group, told state officials.

Environmentalists opposed to the request said the regulations need to be updated because of the expanding gas development across the state.

The state Oil and Gas Commission, the main regulatory body, will rule on the group’s request May 22.

Colorado issued a record 6,368 drilling permits last year, six times the total in 1999. About a third more permits were approved in the first quarter of this year than a year ago and state officials say about 8,000 permits might be issued this year if the pace continues.

“In light of the boom, this rule-making is long overdue,” said Mike Chiropolos of Western Resource Advocates, a Boulder-based environmental law and policy group.

The proposed rules would implement two laws passed last year to give more weight to public health, wildlife and the environment when making decisions about oil and gas development.

The industry and its supporters, including some legislators, have warned that the proposed rules could drive up costs and dampen companies’ interest in Colorado, where the industry generates billions of dollars in economic benefits and employs thousands of people.

Wonstolen told oil and gas commission members Thursday during a meeting on the rule-making process that a major revision of regulations completed in 1994 took six years.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Association said that considering the 900 pages of proposed changes by July would violate state laws guaranteeing people’s rights to be heard and protest.

The association also argues that the proposed rules exceed what the Legislature intended when it approved the laws requiring input from state health, environment and wildlife experts on energy development. Wonstolen suggested first concentrating on the basic requirements, including ways to minimize impacts on wildlife.

“(The association’s) proposal ignores part of the legislative mandate for new rules to protect the public welfare and environment,” Dave Neslin, acting Oil and Gas Commission director, said after the meeting.

The proposal could indefinitely delay action on such rules as requiring companies to disclose what chemicals companies use, spills from oil and gas drilling waste pits and reclamation bonds, Neslin said. Thousands more wells could be approved before some of those issues are considered, he added.

“That would limit the commission’s choices before the rule-making begins and the evidence is presented,” Neslin said.