State to delay oil and gas rules for two months

The new, stricter rules took effect April 1 on nonfederal lands.

State regulators Tuesday agreed to a two-month extension for implementation of new oil and gas rules on federal land, allowing more time to seek an agreement with the Bureau of Land Management on the matter.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission approved delaying the implementation date until July 1, despite concerns by two commissioners that it could prompt a flood of last-minute permit applications by companies wanting to drill under existing rules.

“I’m not really convinced of the merits of this. … I don’t feel the case has been made,” Commissioner Michael Dowling said.

He abstained from voting on the delay, and Commissioner Tresi Houpt, of Garfield County, cast the only vote against it.

Commissioner Joshua Epel said the delay was needed to try to avoid litigation over the question of state authority over federal lands.

“Rather than having a potential conflict with the federal government right now, I’d rather just give them 60 days, see what they come up with,” he said.

The new, stricter rules, designed to better protect the environment, wildlife and the public, took effect April 1 on nonfederal lands. The previous month, the state received about 1,150 permit applications, compared to a prior one-month record of 784. State regulators think companies were trying to stockpile permits under the old rules, and Dowling and Houpt fear another rush for permits on federal land.

Commission Chairman Harris Sherman, also executive director of the state Department of Natural Resources, said he doesn’t anticipate that occurring. He also said the federal government already has fairly comprehensive oil and gas development rules in place.

Industry representatives supported the delay and said they will continue to challenge the state’s assertions about the degree to which it can impose its new rules on federal land.

David Neslin, director of the oil and gas commission, said Tuesday the state’s authority isn’t unlimited, “but we believe it is very broad.”

Bob Randall, federal lands coordinator for the state Department of Natural Resources, said officials began meeting about the new rules in late March.

“We haven’t bumped up against irreconcilable legal issues,” he said.
State officials hope to reach an agreement with the federal government on how to administer two sets of rules in a way that avoids duplication and inefficiency. However, Neslin said the state could enforce its rules without an agreement if none is reached by July 1.

“We would not want it to become the first of many extensions,” he said.


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