Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission rules rewrite to be reviewed

A state commission’s unanimous, final approval of new oil and gas regulations this week will be far from the last word on the subject.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission’s comprehensive and controversial rewrite of its rules is headed to review by the Legislature early next year, and is likely to be the subject of a number of bills addressing various aspects of it, said Rep. Kathleen Curry,
D-Gunnison.

That said, Curry is glad to see the new rules finally adopted after having advocated for years to see more consideration given to residents living in drilling country.

“It makes me happy that we spent time talking about how this type of energy development impacts the people on the ground that are living with it,” she said.

But others worry about the impacts the new rules will have on the industry. At a time when the nation is in a recession and energy prices are plummeting, companies are cutting investment plans for next year, including in Colorado, where they also are citing concerns over the costs and consequences of the new rules.

“Obviously there’s an array of forces that are causing the pullback, but what’s clear is that these regulations are making a bad situation worse,” said state Senate minority leader Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction.

Penry and the Colorado Oil & Gas Association believe the oil and gas commission went beyond the intent of 2007 legislation that prompted the rulemaking. That legislation sought to strike a balance between energy development and protection of health, the environment and wildlife.

COGA official John Swartout told the Daily Sentinel editorial board Thursday that Colorado already was one of the nation’s most heavily regulated states regarding oil and gas development. The new rules will let opponents of permits challenge drilling at any time during the process and eliminate certainty that drillers can get permits as long as they meet regulations, he said.

Silt-area resident Bob Elderkin, a Colorado Mule Deer Association member who lobbied for the new rules, said new requirements to minimize impacts will mean energy companies will have to absorb costs once borne by the public to subsidize production of cheap gas. He praised the general direction of the new rules.

“If the state does what they seem willing to do now, I think it will have a huge effect on the surface impacts and the groundwater impacts,” he said.

Harris Sherman, chairman of the oil and gas commission and executive director of the state Department of Natural Resources, said he looks forward to going over the new rules with the Legislature.

“The fact that we had a unanimous vote I think is an illustration of the thoughtfulness of the process, the give and take, the compromise that was undertaken by this commission,” he said.

Meanwhile, he noted, the commission still has a lot more rulemaking work ahead of it. It has deferred action on about a half-dozen issues, from certain reclamation standards to setbacks between wells and homes, pending study by stakeholder groups.


Sentinel reporter Gary Harmon contributed to this story.


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