Drilling regs fading as campaign issue in gov’s race, as industry eyes uptick

The Denver Post over the weekend formally put a fork in the acrimony over tough natural gas drilling regulations, declaring it a non-issue on the gubernatorial campaign trail compared to just a few months ago.

A lot of that has to do with Gov. Bill Ritter, the man who shepherded the more environmentally stringent regs through the legislature, dropping out of the race. And the fact that his Democratic replacement, presumptive nominee and Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, has been cozying up to the oil and gas industry as a former geologist who was laid off in the 80s and feels their pain.

GOP frontrunner Scott McInnis, a Glenwood Springs native from the heart of the Gas Patch, had been pounding Ritter on the regs, but now his message has less traction with Hickenlooper calling the shots.

In a spin through the “Gas Patch” of Garfield County late last week, Hickenlooper kept hammering that theme, but he sprinkled in his environmental cred for the benefit of area residents who actually have to live downwind of drilling rigs.

“There must be some way to protect the heritage landscapes that make Colorado what it is, but at the same time … maybe we end up with a little bit of oil and gas in a few places where it might really mar the landscape,” he told the Glenwood Springs Post-Independent. “But in most cases, the oil and gas is where we’ve already got roads, we’ve already got oil production. And the question is, how to we do it and make sure that we don’t harm the ranches or the citizens around it?”

That’s really the only question for people like the residents of Battlement Mesa, staring down the barrel of 200 new wells in the heart of their community (as proposed by Denver-based Antero).

The industry is starting to show more signs of life on the Western Slope and could get even more of a boost from Ritter’s recently passed Clean Air Clean Jobs Act, which requires Xcel to mothball or retrofit coal-fired power plants in favor of cleaner-burning gas-fired plants.

According to the Post, gas industry officials and utilities are actually talking about long-term contracts for the first time in 20 years. All of which means the new drilling regs, which give greater weight to wildlife habitat, public safety and air and water quality, are even more critical.

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