Colo. oil, gas panel tentatively backs wildlife rules |

Colo. oil, gas panel tentatively backs wildlife rules

Oil, gas panel tentatively backs wildlife rulesDENVER, Colorado Five conservation groups say new rules that oil and gas regulators tentatively approved to protect wildlife from drilling represent a “balanced compromise,” though a key rule opposed by industry executives was dropped.The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission gave the rules initial approval in an 8-1 vote Tuesday.Industry executives had opposed a rule that would have required a 90-day closure of sensitive winter grazing or mating areas if other mitigation was not possible was dropped. That rule was dropped.The commission has passed dozens of new rules in recent months in an overhaul of state regulations. The rules cover issues including protection of drinking water, odor and dust control, and disclosure of toxic-chemical drilling.New state laws mandated that state drilling rules include wildlife and health protections.One contentious wildlife rule that the commission deliberated would require companies to avoid certain activities like construction and laying of pipeline in “restricted surface occupancy,” or RSO, areas.RSO areas would include spots where bighorn sheep reproduce, where bald eagles nest, and areas within 300 feet of gold medal trout waters.Companies could avoid the RSO rule if they work with the commission director, demonstrate that wildlife is not present in the targeted drilling area, gain an exemption from the Division of Wildlife, develop a comprehensive drilling plan for the area, or show that it’s not technically or economically feasible to comply with the rule.The commission voted 5-4 to tentatively endorse the RSO rule.Commissioner Tom Compton said much of his opposition to the rule was focused around the possible impact to surface rights owners.”I do believe we are treading on thin ice relative to property rights,” Compton said.Ken Wonstolen, an attorney for the Colorado Oil & Gas Association trade group, said operators fear that at least some of the rules could let the state ban drilling in some cases. He argues that that would be a “taking” of property and would require government compensation. He said that could lead the group to challenge the new rules in court.Some conservation groups were hopeful the rules would help protect critical species.”The future looks a lot brighter for wildlife than it did two years ago,” said Steve Torbit, executive director of the National Wildlife Federation. “Industry will find these rules are workable and reasonable. Factoring in wildlife conservation will become a natural way of doing business for the (energy) industry.”A final vote on the rules could come in December.

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