Panel approves most new rules on oil and gas

A legislative panel Friday night approved the bulk of a package of new Colorado oil and gas rules, rebuffing attempts to remove provisions some lawmakers criticized as overreaching and contrary to legislative intent.

The joint Committee on Legal Services approved the rules after a hearing of more than eight hours. Committee chairwoman Jennifer Veiga said the committee’s purview was limited to considering the legality of the new rules, and not whether they are good or bad policy.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission passed the rules in December, in response to 2007 legislation calling for oil and gas development to be better balanced
against protection of the environment, wildlife, and public health, safety and welfare.

The committee repealed a few provisions Friday, including one that would have put the burden on energy companies rather than the Colorado Division of Wildlife to initiate wildlife consultations related to permit applications. But Republicans on the committee unsuccessfully sought to excise several other rules.

Among them are measures requiring lining of most pits, notification of landowners within 500 feet of proposed oil and gas operations, surface owner consent for permit conditions related to wildlife protection, and that surface owners be allowed to request a hearing on drilling permit applications.

Industry representatives testified Friday that new rights granted to parties such as surface owners and neighboring landowners threaten timely review of drilling permits.

The rules are set to take effect May 1 on federal lands, and April 1 elsewhere in the state.

Ken Wonstolen, an attorney representing the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, questioned the state’s authority over drilling on federal lands.

“This is a matter of considerable controversy and has been throughout the (rulemaking) proceedings,” he told the committee.

But the committee left the rules’ references to federal lands unchanged. The state hopes to reach an agreement with the federal government regarding implementation of the rules.

Kim Weber, who lives near De Beque, supports the rules, even though she worked in a job related to the energy industry until being laid off during the current industry downturn. Weber lives near an oil and gas waste pit.

“Pit lining requirements will reduce chemical leaching into surrounding soils and waterways,” she said.

Rifle City Council member Jay Miller told the committee a spill of thousands of gallons of oil and gas condensate by an overturned truck in Rifle this week points to the urgency of the new rules.

“Our city is under assault and we encourage you to pass these rules,” he said.


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