The head of a government agency that oversees Colorado’s oil and gas industry will leave his post next month to join a private consulting firm that helps energy companies, state officials announced Tuesday.
Matt Lepore, director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, will resign on March 2 after about five and a half years at the helm of an agency that both promotes and regulates oil and gas development. Lepore will join Adamantine Energy, a private consulting firm, according to a news release.
Public pressure has been on the agency to do more to protect public health and safety in recent years as oil and gas wells and residential development across the booming Front Range encroach on each other. The issue has reared up in the Democratic primary for governor. And last week, the COGCC finalized new rules that require oil and gas companies to map underground natural gas flowlines, marking a step in preventing future accidents like the explosion in Firestone last April.
Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper said Lepore performed one of the most demanding jobs in state government.
“He did so with style and substance that provided calm over an area often at the center of controversy,” Hickenlooper said in a statement. “Matt always put safeguarding public safety and the environment first. Under his leadership, Colorado developed regulations that have been used as models across the country.”
A group of teenagers, backed by environmental advocacy groups, say the agency has not put public health and safety first. Their case, Martinez v. Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, which is now before the Colorado Supreme Court, demands the COGCC not approve drilling permits unless it can prove there will be no threat to health, safety or the environment. Lawmakers are also working to make this a priority at the agency.
Dan Haley, President and CEO for the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, agreed Lepore had a difficult job, and, at times, drew the ire of both industry and conservation activists.
“That’s probably when you know you’re doing your job properly,” Haley said in a statement. “He led massive change, with many first-of-their kind regulations implemented on his watch. He was very transparent in his leadership, and always willing to discuss concerns or issues, which I always appreciated.”
Leslie Robinson, chair for Grand Valley Citizens Alliance, said she had worked with Lepore since the beginning of the oil and gas boom and her citizens group did not always agree with him on oil and gas issues.
“It’s kinda a love-hate relationship,” Robinson said of the COGCC.
Lepore said leading the agency has been the professional privilege and challenge of a lifetime.
“We benefit from the participation of so many outstanding citizens, industry representatives and COGCC staff and commissioners, working together in good faith through the inherently difficult issues that can arise in balancing increasing energy production within a growing state,” he said in a statement.
Julie Murphy, the assistant director for energy and minerals at the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, will take over as the COGCC’s new director.