House passes oil, gas rules package

Defenders of energy workers and of residents living near drilling activity clashed Thursday before the Colorado House of Representatives approved a controversial package of new oil and gas regulations.

The approval followed several hours of heated debate by lawmakers over whether new protections for public health and the environment jeopardize energy jobs and the state’s economy.

Hundreds of rules opponents descended on the state Capitol in Denver from Grand Junction and other parts of the state to hold a rally and hear the House debate. Opponents say fear about the new rules is contributing to a sharp pullback in drilling activity in the state. Supporters of the regulations say the slowdown is because of other reasons such as falling energy prices.

Rules opponents packed the House chambers.

“Ask them if these rules take into account their needs, their concerns,”  said state Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Yuma.

State Rep. Steve King, R-Grand Junction, cited recent announcements of energy-related layoffs in Grand Junction.

“It was because of fear of the unknown. It was because of these rules,” he said.

But state Rep. Kathleen Curry, D-Gunnison, said the rules are needed. Her district includes half of Garfield County, which leads the state in drilling.

“Those folks want those rules. … It means a lot for them to have their water supplies protected, to make sure their groundwater isn’t contaminated,” she said.

The rules also include new wildlife habitat protections, pit lining requirements, odor controls, chemical reporting regulations and numerous other provisions. They are scheduled to take effect this spring, pending legislative approval. The regulations are subject to a final reading in the House before the Senate can consider them.

The vote by the Democrat-controlled House came after it rejected several amendments by Republican lawmakers. House members also rejected an amendment to prevent Colorado Division of Wildlife and Department of Public Health and Environment from seeking hearings before the oil and gas commission to challenge permit approvals.

Grand Junction resident Tom Burke, former chamber president and former head of the Wildlife Commission,  said he knows the chamber is just doing its job in challenging the new rules.

“The tough thing is to try and reach that middle ground where business is not devastated and Colorado wildlife is not devastated,” he said.


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