Ritter, oil and gas industry to announce major wildlife accord

State officials have struck a deal with Exxon Mobil, EnCana, Williams and other major oil and gas companies operating in the Piceance Basin of Colorado’s Western Slope, agreeing to minimize impacts to wildlife when drilling in important habitat areas.

Gov. Bill Ritter and industry officials are scheduled to make an announcement at 1:30 p.m. today on the West Steps of the State Capitol in Denver, announcing “historic new agreements that will protect hundreds of square miles of important wildlife habitat on the Western Slope,” according to a release from the governor’s office.

State officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity because full details are embargoed until 1:30, said the agreements allow operators to take care of wildlife mitigation requirements under the state’s amended oil and gas regulations up front and avoid a time-consuming well-by-well review process by the Colorado Division of Wildlife.

Under wildlife mitigation plans, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission and CDOW will identify the most appropriate locations for roads and well pads prior to the permitting process and thereby allow operators to fulfill their wildlife mitigation obligations in a more streamlined fashion.

One of the consistent complaints from operators about the amended drilling regulations before and after they were adopted in the spring of 2009 – and thereby a Republican rallying cry on the campaign trail to some degree this year – was that the new CDOW consultation requirement was unnecessarily slowing down natural gas drilling.

In a previous interview with the Colorado Independent, COGCC director David Neslin said only about 7 percent of permit applications were being flagged for wildlife concerns and any issues were being resolved between the operators and CDOW without the COGCC getting involved.

“I don’t have people coming in and saying it’s taking 80 days to get a permit – that’s just not happening – or the Division of Wildlife is being irresponsible,” Neslin said last spring. “I haven’t heard much of that.”

Today’s announcement appears to be a continuation of that streamlining process on a much larger scale. There has been ongoing debate in the governor’s race about the degree to which the amended drilling regulations should be further tweaked or scrapped altogether, as some Republicans suggest.

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