Oil, gas regulators repeal new rule allowing hearings on permits

Colorado oil and gas regulators have agreed to rescind a new provision letting state health, environment and wildlife officials seek hearings on drilling permits.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission on Thursday unanimously agreed to the change after hearing from state Rep. Kathleen Curry, D-Gunnison, one of several Democratic and Republican lawmakers who had questioned the provision.

“There were a number of us who had concerns,” Curry told commission members.

Curry was a supporter of 2007 legislation that called for the commission to adopt new rules providing more balance between oil and gas development and protection of public health, welfare and the environment. But the Legislature also required that the rules provide a timely and efficient approval process for the industry, and Curry said lawmakers were concerned that the hearing provision failed to meet that requirement.

The provision is one of many new ones that the industry says are onerous and costly.

Under the provision revoked Thursday, the state Division of Wildlife and Department of Public Health and Environment could seek a commission hearing to challenge commission director approvals of drilling permits and oil and gas operation locations.

Despite the commission’s action, the new rules continue to grant a hearing right to the energy company involved, the relevant local government and, with certain limitations, the owner of the land in question.

The commission’s staff ended up recommending deletion of the hearing provision as it pertains to wildlife, environment and health officials.

The new rules already grant those officials rights to be consulted on certain permit matters.

Also, the executive directors of the health department and Department of Natural Resources, which oversees the Division of Wildlife, sit on the oil and gas commission.

Commission director Dave Neslin said commission members are entitled to seek a commission hearing on a permit. But attorney Michael Freeman, representing the Colorado Environmental Coalition, said a hearing requested by a commission member occurs only if a majority of the nine-member commission agrees to it.

Freeman fears that stripping the appeal right from the state agencies while preserving it for energy companies gives companies an unfair bargaining position during the permit consultation process.

The commission’s action comes during the same week that a judge dismissed a lawsuit by residents and citizens groups who sought a hearing over drilling permits near the Project Rulison nuclear blast site.

Paul Zogg, an attorney for those residents and groups, told the commission Thursday that granting hearing rights to some entities and not others makes it hard to achieve the kind of regulatory balance the legislature required.

The commission’s rule change will be subject to review by the legislature when it reconvenes next year.


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