New drilling rules on way

State panel puts final touches on tighter oil, gas regulations

A state commission Wednesday gave final approval to a comprehensive package of new rules for oil and gas development.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission brought about a fundamental shift in how the industry is regulated. The rules were written in response to 2007 legislation that required the agency to strike a better balance between oil and gas production and protection of public health, the environment and wildlife.

After months of deliberations, the commission undertook final consideration of the rules this week.

On Tuesday, it gave final approval to numerous new measures such as public watershed protection, odor and dust control, and requirements that oil and gas developers provide information to authorities as necessary regarding chemicals they use.

On Wednesday, the commission revised and signed off on new rules to protect wildlife, more strictly regulate pits that hold fluids used in drilling and other stages of production, and address reclamation and pipelines. It then unanimously approved its rules package as a whole.

Many of the rules are scheduled to take effect April 1 on private land and May 1 on federal land.

The new rules developed this year have received widespread support from environmental and wildlife conservation groups. However, the energy industry has voiced fears the rules will be overly onerous and costly.

Republicans such as state Senate minority leader Josh Penry of Grand Junction and Laura Bradford, the Collbran resident recently elected to the Colorado House of Representatives, said in a news release Wednesday the rules could have a dire effect on Colorado jobs and state revenues.

Numerous energy companies have said they are cutting back operations in the drilling hotbed of northwest Colorado as a result of falling natural gas prices, the crisis in the financial market and the expected costs and challenges of the state’s new rules.

The new rules will be subject to legislative review.

On Wednesday, oil and gas regulators struggled with one rule they said was compelled by the 2007 legislative language. That rule prevents the state from imposing drilling-related, wildlife-habitat protections without landowner consent. One result could be that drilling would be prohibited on some land, which could eliminate the ability of others to develop minerals and possibly result in litigation.

Oil and gas commission Chairman Harris Sherman said the success of the new rules will depend on how they are carried out.

“These rules will only work if we implement them in a very fair, thoughtful and reasonable way,” he said.


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