Oil, gas rules volatile issue for governor

When Gov. Bill Ritter tallies up his accomplishments during his one term in office, the state’s adoption of sweeping new oil and gas rules is likely to be high on the list.

But his support for the new rules also carried some political risk. And one advocate of the new rules, Leslie Robinson of Rifle, says she can’t help but think the issue played a part in Ritter’s decision not to seek re-election.

“He made himself a political target against people who are well-financed, and that’s the oil and gas industry, and they were going to throw everything at him in this election.

“Because of that, I think people in western Colorado that have been involved in oil and gas issues have a huge, huge debt to him. I don’t think we can thank him enough for pretty much putting his political future out there for us in his fight,” said Robinson, who serves on the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance board and has been an active member of the Democratic Party.

State Rep. Kathleen Curry, who helped push for the stricter drilling rules in the Legislature, said she has wondered whether independent groups funded by the industry might have been building up war chests in anticipation of making the rules a major issue in Ritter’s re-election campaign. But she doesn’t think the prospect of that battle was a factor in his decision, and she said she has to take him at his word that it was a result of family considerations.

“He’s really tough, and I don’t think he would have stuck his neck out as much as he did if he didn’t have the fortitude to deal with the follow-up. I don’t think he’s afraid of a fight,” said Curry, a Gunnison resident who recently left the Democratic Party to become an independent.

The Ritter administration said the new rules, which took effect last year, were needed to provide more balance between energy development and protection of the environment, wildlife and public health. But the industry and Republicans called them onerous and said they contributed to last year’s drilling slowdown in western Colorado and elsewhere in the state.

Still, John Martin, a Republican Garfield County commissioner, said he didn’t think the oil and gas issue played much of a role in Ritter’s decision not to run again.

“Being in politics, especially at the state level, it takes a lot out of the individual. He may have found it just wasn’t his cup of tea,” Martin said.

Representatives with two local natural gas developers, Bill Barrett Corp. and EnCana Oil & Gas (USA), declined to comment on Ritter’s decision.

Asked about the prospect of Ritter having been targeted by the industry had he run again, David Ludlam, executive director of the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association, said he doesn’t rule out the possibility “that disagreement over energy policy may factor in how individual companies choose to participate in the political process.”

Ludlam said his group, which is nonpartisan, “wishes Governor Ritter well. Our organization respects his decision and dedication to family. West Slope COGA stands ready to work with whoever resides in the governor’s mansion in order to enhance oil and gas development in western Colorado and maintain a vibrant oil and natural gas sector in our communities.”

As criticism over the new rules mounted, Ritter worked to show support for the industry. Among other actions, he called natural gas vital to the state’s energy future, promoted expansion of pipeline capacity to out-of-state markets and sought funding for use of compressed natural gas in vehicles.


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