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A contentious debate is shaping up in the statehouse over new drilling regulations that favor wildlife habitat protection, public safety and air and water quality concerns.
A contentious debate is shaping up in the statehouse over new drilling regulations that favor wildlife habitat protection, public safety and air and water quality concerns.
Courtesy of Picture Taking Fool/Flickr 
Despite Western Slope natural-gas bust, battle brewing over new drilling regulations
Lawmakers debate whether economy, new rules responsible for
By David O. Williams

February 14, 2009 — Rep. Joe Rice, D-Littleton, says he’s perplexed by the growing drumbeat from state Republicans who want to gut new oil and gas drilling regulations or at least delay them for a year or two.

In an interview with on Tuesday, Rice, chair of the House Business Affairs & Labor Committee, said critics of the new rules, adopted by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) in December, have yet to provide any specifics about what’s wrong with the regulations.

Now subject to approval by the state Legislature — although no timetable has been established — the new COGCC rules would go into effect this spring, providing greater protection for wildlife, air and water quality and overall public health.

But some industry advocates, including several Republican lawmakers, have charged that the rules have already hurt the state’s previously booming energy sector.

“Overall, I’m willing to listen, but they have not shown any evidence that any of these rules are causing any of the problems. When gas goes from $50 a cubic foot down to $5, that’s the problem,” Rice said, pointing to the flagging economy.

“Again, we want companies to be able to stay here, we want to make it as easy as possible, so tell me what the specific problem is.”

Rice points out that many industry representatives were at the table during the drafting process over the past year and a half and in fact voted for the new rules. He also said that the oil and gas industry all along said it wanted financial predictability, so delaying the rules now seems counterintuitive.

“The biggest thing that most people want in business is predictability. Frankly, that’s what we all want in all aspects of our life. What causes stress is unpredictability,” Rice said.

“The reason, quite frankly, that they want to delay the rules is they just want to keep the issue alive in the media, and again I keep saying, ‘Tell me what your specific issues are and maybe we can just address those.’”

A Senate committee late last month defeated an attempt by Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray, to delay the new regs by a year.

“I’m just really angry the majority party won’t take this issue seriously,” Brophy said, according to the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel. “I expected the adults in the majority party to realize our economy is tanking, and these new rules make it worse.”

But Rice, echoing Department of Natural Resources officials, said the new regs will actually reduce the amount of time needed to obtain a drilling permit and give the industry very specific guidelines to work from.

“I’m certainly willing to listen, but show me exactly what you want to have changed and then we can assess the ramifications of it, the pros and cons,” Rice said.

“I might agree with you and I might not, but right now, when (it’s) just about ‘we don’t like regulation,’ that doesn’t give me anything to bite onto.”

Without providing specifics, Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, told the Wall Street Journal that the new rules, on top of the current economic situation, will accelerate another energy bust on Colorado’s Western Slope.

“These rules have made a grim situation almost intolerable for these companies,” Penry told the Journal. “This is killing jobs.”



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