Senate OKs oil, gas rules

Final vote all that remains; package to take effect next week

New Colorado oil and gas rules took one of their few remaining steps to final approval Tuesday, just a week before they are scheduled to take effect.

The Colorado Senate voted in favor of the new rules, rejecting an attempt led by Minority Leader Josh Penry to change some of them.

Penry, R-Grand Junction, and other Republicans decried the rules as job-killers for the state’s oil and gas industry.

“It’s a big concern of mine that we’re running these people off and that we’re going to damage the economy of Colorado by doing so,” said Sen. Ken Kester, R-Las Animas.

But while Republicans worried about how energy workers will put food on their tables under stricter rules in Colorado, Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, feared what kind of water residents in gas fields will drink if the rules don’t take effect.

Schwartz displayed a photo of gas-contaminated tap water on fire and cited spills by energy companies as she called for passage of the new rules, designed to strike a better balance between oil and gas development and protection of public health, wildlife and the environment.

The rules were passed in December by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission but were subject to legislative review.

Schwartz said excess natural gas supplies and low gas prices, and not the new rules, are responsible for a drilling slowdown in Colorado.

“This is a timeout. We’ve overproduced. We don’t have competitive pricing right now that even pays for the industry to move forward,” she said.

Penry sought to change several rules, saying his amendment would have left intact most of the rule changes sought by Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter.

“This is not a sweeping rewrite. We’re willing to give the governor about 90 percent of what he wants,” Penry said.

His measure failed by a party-line, 21-12, vote, and the Senate approved the rules on a voice vote.

The House already has passed the rules package. It is subject to a final, formal vote by the Senate before it can be sent to Ritter for his signature. The rules are scheduled to take effect next Wednesday on private land and May 1 on federal land.

Among other changes, Penry’s amendment would have: required landowner consent for wildlife-related restrictions on drilling; modified when landowners could appeal approval of drilling permits; and directed the state to seek cooperating agency status regarding drilling on federal land.

The Ritter administration says the state has the legal right to impose its drilling rules on federal land, but is working on an agreement with the federal government for doing so.

Penry said his measure would have made the rules tougher on the industry in some respects, by tripling fines for noise and odor violations and increasing buffer zones between operations and water supplies.

Sen. Al White, R-Hayden, whose Senate district includes the state drilling epicenter of Garfield County, said he was worried to hear estimates that the rules could add $50,000 to the effective cost of seeking a drilling permit, and half a million dollars to the cost of drilling a well.


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