Colorado Legislature approves landmark oil, gas rules
DENVER, Colorado ” The Colorado Legislature has given final approval to landmark new regulations for oil and gas drilling, despite dire warnings from opponents that the rules will hobble an ailing industry and eliminate jobs amid a deep recession.
Backers say the new rules are similar to ones already in effect elsewhere and will bring long-overdue protections to the public, the environment and wildlife.
The Senate passed the rules Wednesday on a straight party-line vote and sent them to Gov. Bill Ritter.
Ritter plans to sign the legislation but hasn’t set a date, spokesman Evan Dreyer said.
The rules give more weight to public health and safety, environmental protection and wildlife habitat and migration when state regulators consider applications for new oil and gas wells.
The Legislature passed a bill in 2007 ordering the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to rewrite the rules amid widespread public sentiment that the existing rules favored drilling at the expense of other considerations.
The energy industry was booming then and conflicts were frequent. Residents blamed health problems on pollution from the wells, property owners complained about damage to their land and state wildlife managers and environmental groups warned of threats to wildlife and habitat.
This year, the Legislature was supposed to do a simple review of the new rules, along with rules from other state regulators, to make sure they were within the legal boundaries set by the 2007 legislation.
But minority Republicans argued for scaling back or changing the rules in light of the recession and a sharp drop in energy exploration, especially in western Colorado.
“Oil and gas is a second-class citizen in this building, in this administration,” Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, complained Tuesday.
Some lawmakers and industry officials said the rules were prompting energy companies to back off on drilling in the state even before they were passed.
Supporters dismissed that notion, saying depressed energy prices and the relative difficulty of extracting natural gas in parts of Colorado were to blame. Some energy officials concurred.
Democratic Sen. Chris Romer said Wednesday the new rules, coupled with a reorganization of the Oil and Gas Commission to make it more sympathetic to public health and environmental concerns, will pass the “son-in-law test” ” they won’t be as good as environmentalists hope but won’t be as bad as opponents fear.