DENVER - Colorado regulators are beginning a three-day hearing on rule changes for oil and gas drilling that could determine how to protect water sources amid complaints that industry supporters are trying to block testimony from opponents.Colorado's proposed new rule to protect water from expanding oil and gas operations would not apply to more than a quarter of wells or tanks, pipelines and other production facilities that are frequent sources of leaks.Environmental groups that worked with Shell Oil to develop tougher ground water testing rules say the state's proposal is a farce, but industry supporters want testimony from opponents limited on grounds there is no scientific evidence to back up claims that drilling is responsible for environmental contamination.The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is holding hearings starting Monday on new proposed drilling rules.Several Coloradans who live near rigs have submitted written testimony outlining health problems, with the residents and their supporters saying they have a right to be heard. But the Colorado Oil & Gas Association and others say some of the testimony should be tossed because they represent non-expert medical opinions or hearsay.Dan Grossman, regional director for the Environmental Defense Fund, said that under the new regulations, Colorado's water sampling would be the worst in the nation. Adoption of the rules as currently proposed would mean that sampling would be less rigorous in the Wattenberg Field drilling zones north of metro Denver, where nearly 18,000 wells exist near communities and companies plan to drill thousands more.Oil and gas drilling accounts for nearly 44,000 jobs in Colorado and brought in $208 million in severance taxes last year.Gov. John Hickenlooper has called for a consistent set of state rules, so companies do not face conflicting local regulations that could drive them to other states.
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