Bill would alter makeup of oil-gas panel

DENVER — Rep. Ray Scott heard the state’s new governor say in his State of the State speech last month that he was willing to do what needs to be done to help business.

To that end, the freshman lawmaker wants to do something the Democratic governor never actually said he would do, remake the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission by making it identical to the way it was in 2007 before it approved strict new drilling regulations that included protections against water and surface damage.

The Grand Junction Republican said the commission that oversees drillers in the state was better when it included more industry experts.

“We’re just doing what the governor asked us to do, which is to get government off the back of industry,” Scott said. “What I’m hearing is that there’s problems with the regulations because there’s not enough experience on the commission, and they’ve made mistakes.”

Opponents in the Legislature who fought for years trying to get a more environmental-friendly commission, however, said they’re not likely to go along with Scott’s idea.

As a result, Senate President Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont, said he’s not in favor of rehashing already solved problems.

“It is unproductive for us to debate again the same controversial issues that we resolved in 2007,” Shaffer said. “It is time for us to put our heads together and create jobs for the future.”

But that’s what Scott said he hopes to do by making the commission more industry friendly again.

Under his measure, which he and Sen. Steve King, R-Grand Junction, introduced into the House on Monday, the commission would return to seven members, five of whom would have substantial experience in the oil and gas industry.

“We just have to become more business-friendly, that’s the point,” Scott said. “What we need is more balance. Right now, the scale is tipped too far in one direction. We need to bring it back more into balance. The argument (in 2007) was the commission was not correctly set up, but it worked for 30 years.”

In 2007, the Legislature changed the commission to include nine members, most of whom are experienced in surface issues. Two don’t have voting rights: the executive directors of the Colorado Departments of Natural Resources and Health and Environment, who are, respectively, Mike King and Chris Urbina.

The law also requires the seven voting members to include one with environmental or wildlife protection experience, one with soil conservation or reclamation experience, one with experience in agricultural production who also is an oil or gas royalty owner, and a county commissioner.

The remaining three must have experience in the oil and gas industry, with two of them having degrees in petroleum geology or petroleum engineering.

Additionally, no more than four can be from the same political party. Currently, the panel, which was appointed by former Gov. Bill Ritter, has three Democrats, three Republicans and one unaffiliated.

The current panel includes an ecologist, a rancher, an environmental attorney, a county commissioner, the founder of a conservation group and two petroleum engineers. All of their terms expire July 1.

The law also requires at least two members to be from the Western Slope. Currently, those two are Grand Junction resident Richard Alward and Hesperus rancher Tom Compton. Former Garfield County Commissioner Tresi Houpt served on the panel until recently. She left after losing re-election last fall. Her seat is now vacant.

Eric Brown, spokesman for Gov. John Hickenlooper, said the new governor will review Scott’s bill to see whether it solves a problem that can’t be fixed with new appointments.

“The state has worked hard with the oil and gas industry to create a balance on the commission that’s good for Colorado,” Brown said, “Any future appointments we make will continue in that spirit.”

Scott’s HB1223 is to be heard in the House Agriculture, Livestock & Natural Resources Committee on Feb. 16.



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