Ritter hasn’t signed rules, but they take effect today

They have yet to receive Gov. Bill Ritter’s imprimatur, but long-awaited and debated new oil and gas rules take effect on private lands in Colorado today.

The rules’ implementation follows an apparent last-minute push by energy companies to file for drilling permits under the old rules. As of Friday, 793 permit applications had been received in March by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, despite a sharp slowdown in drilling activity in the state. Acting commission director Dave Neslin said more March applications came in this week.

He said the prior one-month record had been 784, set last April.

The new rules result from 2007 legislation that required a balance to be struck between oil and gas development and protection of the public, environment and wildlife. The drilling rules were part of a bill legally reviewing numerous state rules, but were the focus of legislative debate on the bill, which cleared the Legislature last Wednesday when the Senate approved them.

The governor plans to sign the bill, after having sought the drilling rules rewrite. But Theo Stein, spokesman for the state Department of Natural Resources, said the measure still was being prepared for Ritter’s signature and hadn’t reached the governor’s desk as of Tuesday.

However, the bill doesn’t require Ritter’s signature for the oil and gas rules to take effect. Rather, the bill will allow those and other state rules to continue indefinitely past May 15.

Said Neslin, “It will be important that he sign the bill prior to May 15.”

Ritter, a Democrat, drew criticism from Republican legislators who say industry fear of costs and red tape resulting from the new rules has contributed to the state’s drilling slowdown. Democratic lawmakers say other factors such as low natural gas prices are to blame.

Neslin noted that not all portions of the rules take effect today. Some will be phased in later this year. The commission also appears poised to delay a planned May 1 deadline for implementing the rules on federal land.

Neslin expects March’s record number of applications to be followed by a drop in April, once permits are subject to the new rules.

As of March 23, the state had approved 1,602 permits this year, a pace that would result in 7,130 permit approvals in 2009, compared to a record 8,027 last year. But the state thinks that pace won’t continue. Many of those permits were pending approval at the start of the year, and rig numbers have declined since then.


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