Rule was intended to help wildlife, sensitive habitat

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is expected to debate a staff report this week encouraging the panel to drop a controversial 90-day drilling moratorium from its draft rules.

According to the Sept. 5 staff report, the drilling moratorium rule, which could force drillers in northwest Colorado to close shop for up to three months, should be dropped.

“Staff recommendations would eliminate this rule altogether and provide for consultation and general operating requirements for activities in sensitive wildlife habitat,” the report said.

David Neslin, acting director of the commission, said the new rule language should foster “collaborative development of mitigation” of the ill effects of drilling on wildlife.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, which has been overhauling its energy-industry regulations since mid-2007, oversees and issues permits for all oil and gas drilling in the state. The commission has generally followed its staff’s recommendations throughout the rule-making process.

Richard Alward, a Grand Junction ecologist who sits on the commission, said he expects the staff’s recommendation to be a hot topic during the panel’s meetings starting today.

He said he is “uncomfortable” with such a “major rewrite” of the rules at the last minute.

The drilling moratorium was included in the rules to protect wildlife living on northwest Colorado’s Piceance Basin, which is being rapidly developed as a major natural gas production area.

The 90-day rule was intended to apply to energy companies that failed to create drilling plans in consultation with the Colorado Division of Wildlife to protect migratory routes or sensitive habitat.

State Sen. Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, said he is encouraged by the staff report.

He said he hopes the moratorium does not rematerialize as some repackaged provision in the commission’s final energy regulations.

State Rep. Bernie Buescher, D-Grand Junction, said the staff recommendation was the culmination of his other lawmakers’ work convincing their peers that the moratorium would not work in practice.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is expected to issue its new rules, governing drilling, reclamation and other aspects of energy development, later this month.


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