Consistency needed in oil and gas rules

The Daily Sentinel has long argued that tough new state regulations related to oil and gas drilling were not the primary reasons for the drastic drop in drilling in Colorado beginning in 2008, or the industry pullback we’re seeing in 2012. Excessive supplies and low prices are the primary culprits.

But we understand the trepidation by representatives of the oil and gas industry about the prospect of counties and municipalities enacting still more layers of regulation on drilling activities — rules that would likely vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

Such a system would create a mish-mash of regulatory oversight that would make it increasingly difficult for energy companies to predict costs, timing or compliance requirements when they seek to drill for oil and gas in Colorado.

That’s why the demise of House Bill 1277 in the state Legislature this week was welcome.

The bill would have given local governments almost unlimited authority to use their land use and zoning rules to regulate oil and gas drilling, and to add those rules on top of state regulations adopted by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

Local governments do have land-use authority over many activities related to oil and gas development. That’s why Mesa County is able to require permits and set stipulations on things like compressor stations and facilities for handling waste materials from oil and gas production.

But state law and court rulings have made it clear that the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has authority over the specifics of oil and gas drilling. And a part of its legal responsibility is to encourage the development of Colorado’s oil and gas resources.

However, in response to public concerns about how drilling was being governed, the state Legislature reformulated the commission four years ago, adding members and requirements related to public health and the environment. And the new commission adopted what were then the strictest drilling rules in the country.

Just this year, the commission approved new regulations on transparency for materials used in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

The point is, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has been and continues to be responsive to public concerns about drilling. But it does so while providing a statewide regulatory framework for drilling.

There is both protection for the public and consistency for the industry in the system. And that consistency would be lost if every local government could adopt its own rules that might exceed and supplant state regulations.


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