Colo. oil and gas rules no longer hot-button issue in governor’s race |

Colo. oil and gas rules no longer hot-button issue in governor’s race

Karen E. Crummy
The Denver Post

The political controversy over new oil and gas drilling rules, which dominated the gubernatorial campaign a few months ago, has fizzled, as the Democrat vying to replace Gov. Bill Ritter has signaled a more conciliatory stance toward the industry.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Dan Maes has said he would gut the rules as one of his first orders of business.

Scott McInnis, a GOP candidate who opposes most of the rules, repeatedly hammered Ritter about the drilling regulations last year, and the issue promised to be one of the most contentious of the campaign.

But when Ritter dropped his re-election bid, Democrat John Hickenlooper, a former geologist and businessman, entered the race.

Hickenlooper has criticized Ritter’s rule-making process and said he is “coming from a very different place than Gov. Ritter” on oil and gas issues. And the Denver mayor said he’s willing to respond to industry concerns as long as any rule changes don’t harm the environment.

“If there is a way to cut red tape and move things along in different regions in the state,” Hickenlooper is willing to do so, said his spokesman George Merritt.

This more industry-friendly attitude has changed the dynamics of the debate.

“Hickenlooper has clearly taken the edge off what was going to be a powerful issue for McInnis,” said Denver political consultant Floyd Ciruli. “The drilling issue still speaks to McInnis’ constituents on the Western Slope, but it may not reach much farther than that.”

Sean Duffy, spokesman for McInnis, a six-term former congressman, said the campaign will continue to call for revisiting the oil and gas rules, and use Hickenlooper’s positions against him to portray a lack of leadership.

“He said he’s open to concerns from the industry about the rules and regulations, but where was he when they were being debated? It’s like saying he isn’t for tax increases, but never said anything when they were being considered,” Duffy said.

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