Vote on proposed change to Colorado oil, gas rules delayed |

Vote on proposed change to Colorado oil, gas rules delayed

Steven K. Paulson
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

DENVER ” State lawmakers delayed voting on an attempt Wednesday to change proposed new oil and gas regulations aimed at protecting wildlife after lawmakers said they needed more time to study the impact on property owners.

The proposed rules allow wildlife officials to recommend restrictions on drilling to protect wildlife including deer, elk and sage grouse. But opponents fear those restrictions could violate private property rights and be used to shut down drilling.

Rep. Cory Gardner proposed a measure (House Bill 1255) that would require landowners’ consent for any restrictions the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission requires. Energy companies also wouldn’t need to consult with the Division of Wildlife on whether any restrictions are needed.

The House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee delayed its vote until later this month after hours of testimony, including emotional testimony from property owners who said the rules would deprive them of their property rights.

Suzanne O’Neill of the Colorado Wildlife Fund said the bill would strip the Division of Wildlife of its role in consulting on wildlife in drilling areas, leaving complex wildlife decisions to oil and gas regulators.

Gardner’s bill would change one of the statutes passed two years ago that directed the oil and gas commission to come up with the rules. If it passes, the commission would have to scrap its wildlife rules and draft new ones.

Harold Shaeffer, a rancher from Rifle, told lawmakers that gas wells dot his property and the only thing that disturbs the elk and deer there are gunshots. He said he didn’t want wildlife officials dictating how his property could be developed.

“Our minerals are one of the most valuable resources that we farmers and ranchers have,” Shaeffer told the panel.

The oil and gas commission’s acting director, Dave Neslin, opposed the bill and said the commission can’t force landowners to accept any restrictions anyway. If landowners object to restrictions to protect wildlife, Neslin said operators can be asked to instead improve habitat elsewhere.

Two other bills dealing with the rules have been killed in legislative committees this session. One would have delayed implementation of the rules for a year. The other would have barred any new rules that would curtail production from existing wells.

The new rules have been endorsed by the oil and gas commission but must be approved by the Legislature to take effect this year.

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