Fitz-Gerald expects oil and gas overhaul to move ahead |

Fitz-Gerald expects oil and gas overhaul to move ahead

DENVER – Lawmakers who are looking at revamping the way the state regulates the booming oil and gas business are listening to the industry’s concerns, but that won’t stop the proposal from moving ahead, Senate President Joan Fitz-Gerald said Wednesday.Industry representatives want some clarification about what the changes will mean for them, she said.”It’s energy independence, we do it at home. But we have do it right,” said Fitz-Gerald, who set up a meeting next week for groups to talk about the bill before it goes before a Senate committee.The measure (House Bill 1341) would increase the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to nine members from seven by adding the directors of the Natural Resources and Public Health departments. It would also decrease the number of members who must have backgrounds in the industry to three, from five. Two members would have to come from the Western Slope.The commission would also be able to restrict production if it was hurting public health, the environment or wildlife.The proposal from Rep. Kathleen Curry, D-Gunnison, and Sen. Jim Isgar, D-Hesperus, follows complaints that the commission has become too cozy with the industry it regulates.Greg Schnacke of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, a trade group, said the proposed changes could restrict production, reducing the severance taxes that flow to the state and potentially hurt consumers by increasing energy prices. He said the commission has had the power to protect public health and safety since 1994 but the new proposal would allow it to restrict production based on a “vague concept”.”The issue of whether or not these actions result in a curtailment of permitting and production in this state are very real,” he said.Last month, a bipartisan group of lawmakers sent a letter to Gov. Bill Ritter saying they feared the oil and gas bills moving through the legislature could cost the state jobs and asked him to slow down some of the reforms. The letter was similar to one COGA, a trade group, sent March 9 to Ritter.Carrie Doyle, executive director of the Colorado Conservation Voters, praised Fitz-Gerald for taking a behind-the-scenes leadership role on the issue. She thinks a bill to create a “balanced oil and gas commission” to deal with the impacts on communities, water and wildlife will be passed before the legislative session ends May 9.”We have an opportunity to address the problems up front and still allow a thriving oil and gas industry,” Doyle said.

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