Tell us how you will protect Colorado

As the gusher in the Gulf continues largely unabated, Colorado residents have good reason to ask how well protected we are from the risks of oil or natural gas leaks here.

There’s little doubt the state’s environment and public health are better guarded now than they were two years ago, before the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission developed new drilling regulations at the behest of the state Legislature, and before lawmakers approved those new regulations.

Among other things, the new rules address drilling in sensitive wildlife areas and near lakes and streams. They establish rules for setbacks from houses and require energy companies to maintain a list of chemicals used in their drilling operations ready to give to state health officials, should a leak occur. At the same time, they allow production of a valuable natural resource to continue.

The new regulations aren’t perfect, but they are far better than what was in place in 2006, when candidate Bill Ritter ran for governor on a platform that included the need for better drilling oversight. The Daily Sentinel agreed then, and we have since supported the development and implementation of the new regulations.

Those regulations have been an issue in the 2010 governor’s race. The severe decline in natural gas prices, combined with new natural gas fields around the country, have led to a significant reduction in drilling activity in this state. And some politicians have argued the regulations are a primary reason for the drilling cutbacks.

Republicans Scott McInnis and Dan Maes have pledged to revise or restructure the new rules, should either of them be elected governor. And even Democrat John Hickenlooper has said that some adjustment in the regulations may be in order.

Colorado voters should ask these candidates — and all candidates for the state Legislature — whether they believe substantially changing or rolling back the drilling regulations is appropriate in the wake of the continuing disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

And, if candidates believe such a change is appropriate, ask them how they plan to protect the environment here.

We realize an oil leak a mile beneath the surface of the sea is something different than a gas leak thousands of feet below the high desert of western Colorado. But it’s clear that a lack of regulation on some issues, and a failure to enforce other rules, combined with BP’s cost-cutting approach, helped create this disaster.

Federal regulators haven’t crowned themselves with glory in the BP disaster, but that doesn’t mean the tools to protect Colorado should be severely restricted for state officials.

Colorado voters should demand that candidates tell them how we can encourage the development of important and much-needed natural resources in our state while providing the necessary protection for our health and environment.


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