Legislator: Resource directors need to go

Bad for business, King says; Ritter firmly supports them

State Rep. Steve King and Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter are at odds over the performance of the two men who led the rewrite of the state’s oil and gas rules.

King, R-Grand Junction, is calling for the resignation of Harris Sherman, executive director of the state Department of Natural Resources, and Dave Neslin, acting director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

King said Ritter needs to head a different direction with the commission’s rules, “and part of that direction would be saying goodbye to those two gentlemen.”

Ritter’s spokesman, Evan Dreyer, released a statement Monday supporting Sherman and Neslin.

“Gov. Ritter believes Harris Sherman and David Neslin have done a remarkable job the past two years and they have his full support,” the statement said.

On Monday, King and about a dozen other House Republicans and one Democrat asked that Ritter delay the rules to protect jobs during the recession. The House is scheduled to consider the rules Thursday after a legislative committee approved them last week. They are scheduled to take effect this spring.

Dreyer said Ritter doesn’t intend to delay the rules. Environmentalists say the rules are needed immediately to help prevent further drilling impacts.

Critics say that the rules are costly and overreaching, and that industry concern about them has contributed to a recent drilling slowdown in Colorado. Until recently the state had seen a boom in natural gas development, particularly on the Western Slope, which is now experiencing layoffs and rising unemployment.

Sherman declined to comment on King’s comments Monday, and Neslin couldn’t be reached for an interview. But Sherman said last week that percentage-wise, the drop in drilling rigs in Colorado is comparable to that being seen in nearby states, and is driven by low natural gas prices and the nation’s credit crisis.

King said a vibrant oil and gas industry is an important part of the state’s economy.

“And this governor and those gentlemen have not come to terms with that,” he said.

Dreyer said in Monday’s statement: “Seems like everyone is losing focus of the real goal here, which is to ensure that Colorado has a healthy oil and gas industry, a healthy economy, healthy communities and a healthy environment. We believe very strongly that with these new protections, Colorado can have an oil and gas industry that is sustainable and compatible with those goals.”

Neslin is chairman of the oil and gas commission, which worked with Sherman and his staff on the new rules.

State Rep. Kathleen Curry, D-Gunnison, a longtime supporter of reforming oversight of oil and gas development, questioned King’s focus on Sherman and Neslin.

“If Steve thinks some changes need to occur in personnel, then he needs to look at the members of the commission themselves. They’re the ones that adopted the rules,” Curry said.

Stan Dempsey, president of the Colorado Petroleum Association, said he doubts his group would advocate for the removal of Sherman and Neslin.

“The governor gets to decide who administers his agencies and we respect that fact,” he said.

Sherman and Neslin chose to do a much broader rules rewrite than envisioned by the 2007 legislation that instigated the process, Dempsey said. He said his organization sometimes differed sharply with the two over certain rules, but that’s to be expected, and Neslin and Sherman also
worked collaboratively and took industry points of view into consideration during the rulemaking process.

Steve Torbit, regional executive director of the National Wildlife Federation, said he was shocked at King’s comments. He said Neslin and Sherman “bent over backward to get everybody involved” in the rulemaking process.

“This legislator is throwing a temper tantrum because he didn’t get what he wants,” Torbit said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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