Legislative battle shaping up over new oil and gas regs

Republican lawmakers Wednesday were lining up to take shots at the new oil- and gas-drilling regulations finalized this week by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

State Senate minority leader Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, and newly elected state House Rep. Laura Bradford, R-Collbran, who bounced presumptive Speaker of the House candidate Bernie Buescher, D-Grand Junction, from office in November, issued a release predicting dire consequences if the new Legislature approves the rules.

Mandated by the Legislature in 2007, the new oil and gas commission rules are intended to give more weight to environmental, wildlife and public health and safety concerns during the permitting and regulatory process for oil and gas production, which has boomed in Colorado in recent years.

But Penry and Bradford predicted the new rules, which are subject to approval by the new Legislature beginning in January, will have a chilling effect on the industry, costing jobs and state revenue.

Some energy companies are already scaling back operations in northwest Colorado because of the ongoing recession, falling natural gas prices and the added costs anticipated as a result of the new regs.

In southwest Colorado, several Republicans banded together to urge the Legislature to use caution in enacting the final regs. Newly elected Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, and other Republicans released a statement before the final vote warning against being too stringent.

Energy development has brought jobs and opportunity to many areas of our state where they were needed the most. With so much at stake, a cautious approach makes sense,” Tipton told the Durango Herald.

The most hotly contested new rules pertain to wildlife habitat and set limitations on drilling in certain areas in order to protect elk, deer, eagle and trout. One energy-industry attorney suggested that more time is needed to study areas deemed critical wildlife habitat, but commissioners rejected that assertion, given the already lengthy review period.

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