Colorado lawmakers set to act on oil and gas reform |

Colorado lawmakers set to act on oil and gas reform

DENVER ” With less than a month to go in the legislative session, lawmakers appear ready to act on a proposal to change the way the state regulates the booming oil and gas industry.

At issue is both the makeup of the commission that oversees the industry and what power it has to stop or scale back production because of public health and environmental concerns.

Right now, all but two of the commission’s seven members must have a background in the industry, a fact that critics say makes it too friendly to the industry. Under a measure (House Bill 1341) set for a hearing Monday in the Senate, the commission would be expanded to nine members by adding the directors of the natural resources and health departments. But only three of the nine would have to have industry backgrounds.

Bill sponsor Rep. Kathleen Curry believes current oil and gas laws have been slanted in favor of the industry, leading to conflicts between oil and gas producers as production has boomed along with the population on the Western Slope. She said this is the first time lawmakers have moved to address what she compared sees as the root cause ” how the industry is regulated ” rather than just address the conflicts.

“We’ve always had promotion of the resource as the goal, that’s been the direction from the General Assembly,” she said.

Changing the commission’s makeup is one of the main goals of new Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter because of the increased production and number of complaints about it, spokesman Evan Dreyer said. He said Ritter’s representatives met frequently with lawmakers and the industry to talk about how to do it.

“This was a very inclusive process that involved many hours of discussion and conversations with stakeholders representing 360 degrees of viewpoints,” Dreyer said.

But what’s still not clear is exactly how a more diversified commission would regulate the industry when public health, the environment or wildlife could be hurt. Originally Curry sought to do that by changing the definition of waste in oil and gas law, a provision which promotes extracting oil and gas in the most efficient way possible. That’s led to confusion about whether the commission can step in over health and environmental disputes if that might hurt production.

Greg Schnacke, executive vice president of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, said the commission already has the right to regulate in those areas. He said Colorado has a strong overall set of regulations that’s been copied by the federal government.

“This industry is important to the state of Colorado and it’s an industry we believe has been responsibly working within the regulatory system to do the right thing. But at some point the oil and gas industry has a right to exist and we want to be able to do that in a way that we can maintain a business in a way we can afford to operate,” he said.

Schnacke said he was still waiting to see a final version of the bill before taking a position on it.

Sen. Jim Isgar, D-Hesperus, said it’s not clear yet whether every permit would have to be reviewed for wildlife or health impacts, which could delay decisions, or just those where there could be an obvious conflict. He thinks the final proposal will help give people more confidence in the commission while also recognizing the importance of the industry’s economic impact.

“I think good companies want to see everyone operate up to a high standard and this probably will help those who don’t always do a good job do a better job,” he said.

Elsewhere this week:

” On Tuesday, a commission looking at how to provide coverage to an estimated 770,000 uninsured Coloradans will brief lawmakers.

” The Senate Finance Committee is scheduled to consider a proposal (House Bill 1302) to increase the state’s “rainy day” fund on Wednesday.

” Lawmakers who live away from home during the legislative session would receive another $6,120 a year in per diem expenses under a bill set to be considered Thursday the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee.

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