Penry politicizes drilling regs, calls for permit extension … or else

Republican state Sen. Josh Penry appears determined to make the loss of energy-sector jobs a key campaign issue in his run for the governor’s office in 2010.

In a letter earlier this week to Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) Director David Neslin, the senate minority leader from Grand Junction and Republican state Rep. Cory Gardner called on the state to increase the length of oil and gas drilling permits from the current one-year term to two years, with an option for a third.

Neslin has previously said such a move –- more in line with the Bureau of Land Management’s two-year permit -– is worth considering. But Penry and Gardner are pushing the industry agenda item for the sake of jobs, they say, threatening to legislate next session if the state drags its feet.

“We will continue to oppose, and work to repair significant aspects of the new oil and gas rules, but we see this policy change as an opportunity for Colorado to signal that we are not happy with our standing as the worst state for oil and gas investment, and that we are serious about recovering from the dramatic losses in the energy sector,” the letter reads, ignoring the fact that many Coloradans are happy with the more environmentally stringent drilling regulations that went into effect April 1.

Environmentalists told the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel any such move should not apply to permits issued prior to the new regs going into effect –- something that would lengthen the permit window under less-restrictive rules.

A recurring theme from the Penry camp is that Gov. Bill Ritter’s push for the new regs has been the biggest job killer in the Western Slope gas fields.

“There’s no question that the economic storm that has swept across the nation has impacted energy production in every state,” Penry wrote in the letter to Neslin. “But, Colorado’s energy sector has been dealt a second blow in the form of restrictive new rules and regulations that have created higher hurdles, and more onerous obstacles for job producing energy companies, making a bad situation much worse.”

This begs the question, of course, why shouldn’t the state with some of the best scenic vistas, wildlife habitat and air and water quality in the nation have the most protective drilling regs?

There’s a reason Texans vacation in Colorado, after all, and not the other way around.

Ritter spokesman Evan Dreyer, while not specifically addressing the Penry-Gardner letter, in a previous interview had this to say about the politicization of the state’s drilling regulations:

Every energy-producing state in the nation has seen a dramatic drop-off in activity. It is not because of our efforts in this state to strike a better balance [between energy extraction and environmental protection]; it is because of a national drop-off in the price of natural gas. You cannot deny the fact that natural gas is selling for a quarter today of what it was a year ago. It is disingenuous of political opponents to make this a wedge issue.

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