Colorado resumes look at new oil, gas rules |

Colorado resumes look at new oil, gas rules

Elise Jones, head of the Colorado Environmental Coalition, front, talks as Colorado State Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, back right, and Dr. Kendall Gerdes of Denver look on during a news conference about the need to make public health a priority when it comes to regulations on oil and gas drilling during a news conference in Denver on Monday, Aug. 18, 2008. The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission will hold formal deliberations on the new oil and gas rules starting on Tuesday. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

DENVER ” Colorado regulators resumed deliberations Tuesday on controversial new rules for oil and gas drilling after officials proposed a concession to the energy industry.

The Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is writing tougher rules at the direction of the Legislature, addressing concerns about property rights, public health and the environment amid Colorado’s natural gas boom.

Last week, commission staffers suggested dropping a proposal that could have restricted drilling for up to 90 days in the winter to protect wildlife habitat and birthing and breeding grounds.

The restrictions would have taken effect if energy companies couldn’t agree with state experts on ways to reduce drilling’s impact on wildlife.

Companies and trade groups said that would amount to an annual moratorium that could idle thousands of workers, drive down production and reduce state and local tax revenue.

Industry representatives pored through the new suggestion Monday but weren’t ready to declare victory.

Despite the proposed change, “It appears that we’re heading down the road to having the most restrictive regulatory regime in the country,” said Meg Collins, president of the trade group Colorado Oil and Gas Association.

Michael Saul, an attorney for the National Wildlife Federation, said removing the possibility of seasonal drilling restrictions puts a lot of pressure on negotiations between industry and the state Division of Wildlife to find ways to protect wildlife.

“This is a process that has bent over backward to accommodate industry concerns,” Saul said.

“It’s too deferential to industry,” stated Steve Torbit, the group’s regional executive director.

Dave Neslin, acting director of the oil and gas commission, said staffers recommended eliminating the seasonal restrictions after discussions with the industry, environmentalists, local governments, landowners and others.

Torbit and Saul said they were optimistic about other provisions to minimize the effects on wildlife.

“Fundamentally, this is a huge step forward in establishing a consultation process with Division of Wildlife experts in the most sensitive wildlife habitats,” Saul said.

In cases where energy companies own the rights to minerals under someone else’s land ” a common situation known as a split estate ” surface owners would have to agree on drilling conditions before a permit could be issued. If no agreement is reached, the dispute would go the commission director or the entire commission.

Neslin said commission staff suggested postponing other issues, such as reclamation of developed land, to try to reach a consensus sooner

Saul and Torbit said they were concerned about deferral of protecting riparian areas.

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