Crestone Eagle, April 2007:
Gov. Bill Ritter promises reform of Colo. Oil & Gas Commission
Record number of drilling applications & complaints filed
Governor Bill Ritter, as part of his “Colorado
Promise”, is proposing an overhaul of the state’s
oil and gas regulatory agency in a way that balances wildlife
and environmental concerns with the way the industry is currently
regulated. His administration is in support of a plan to bring
changes both to the mission and makeup of the Colorado Oil
and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC). Ritter has said that
he is not comfortable with the high number of permits being
issued. He pledged during his campaign to appoint people to
the COGCC whose top priority is the protection of water, public
health, and the environment.
COGCC is on track to approve approximately 6,000 permits
to drill in 2007. Last year, the commission approved 5,904
permits, setting a record for a third consecutive year. The
State of Colorado will most likely have more than 33,000 active
wells by the end of 2007. This has raised concerns about the
rapidly expanding oil and gas industry in the State and the
COGCC’s ability to stay on top of regulation. Faced
with 1,500 complaints over the past five years regarding water
quality, noise, odor, safety, and public health, state agencies
are struggling to find a way to address citizens’ concerns.
HB 1341 bill was filed March 8. The bill cleared the House
Agriculture Committee with a vote of 8-5 along party lines.
The bill was sponsored by Rep Kathleen Curry D-Gunnison and
will be sponsored in the Senate by Senator Jim Isgar D-Hesperus.
The Colorado Department of Natural Resources helped to write
the bill and Governor Ritter’s office supports it.
Changes proposed include: restating the mission of the COGCC
by deleting the words “encourage and promote”
with regard to oil and gas development. Instead, it would
say “it is in the public interest to foster responsible
and balanced development and production of oil and gas in
the state in a manner consistent with protecting the health,
safety and welfare including protection of environment and
The size of the COGCC board would be increased to nine from
seven members, while decreasing the number of board members
with oil and gas industry affiliations to three from five.
Other board members besides those with oil and gas industry
affiliations would include a local government official, an
expert in soil conservation, an owner of both land and mineral
rights, someone engaged in agriculture, and executive directors
of the Departments of Natural Resources and Public Health
and Environment or their designees.
The definition of waste would be changed to clarify that
in determining how much oil and gas resource is recoverable,
regulators would have to consider public health, safety, environment,
and wildlife resources. Predictably, the Colorado Oil and
Gas Association is opposed to the idea that gas could be left
in the ground.
Other bills being proposed in the Legislature
Kathleen Curry, D-Gunnison, Sponsor of House Bill 1223
This Bill would require the COGCC to work with Colorado Department
of Public Health and Environment on inspection programs and
to address health problems linked to waste and production.
The House Agriculture, Livestock, and Natural Resources Committee
passed the bill after a hearing on March 7. Supporters of
the bill, including ranchers from the Western Slope, testified
about ailments such as skin conditions, nausea, and headaches
they believe to be connected to drilling in their neighborhoods.
Oil and gas companies use fluids when they drill wells and
fracture rocks. The composition of these fluids is kept confidential.
Many residents of Gunnison County believe that these fluids
contain toxic chemicals, although there is no hard evidence
to support this belief.
“People living in these high-density oil and gas areas
are living daily with chronic health problems that are directly
caused by mineral extraction,” said Rep. Kathleen Curry,
D-Gunnison, sponsor of the bill. Ken Wonstolen, representing
the COGCC, said the industry could not support the bill. “Despite
the compelling anecdotal evidence, there is no hard evidence
on which to base a detailed policy response,” he said.
Kathleen Curry, D-Gunnison, Sponsor of House Bill 1142
This House Bill ensures accountability of the oil and gas
industry in reporting revenues and assist the state to accurately
collect the right amount of severance tax from oil and gas
extraction. The legislation passed unanimously through the
House Local Government Committee on March 6 and is now headed
to the House floor. The bill is designed to improve the flow
of information to the Department of Revenue and the State
Assessor’s office while protecting the business interests
of the oil and gas industry. By allowing the Department of
Revenue access to records concerning the amounts of minerals
that oil and gas companies extract and sell, a new level of
accountability is created. Currently, this information is
not available and the DOR cannot verify that the state is
collecting all severance tax revenue due.
Ellen Roberts, R-Durango and Kathleen Curry, D-Gunnison,
Co-sponsors of House Bill 1252
This bill is designed to offer property owners more protection
for their surface rights. The bill has encountered resistance
from oil and gas companies because of language that would
make it “trespass” if mineral extractors disturb
the land’s surface in an “unreasonable and excessive”
manner. In any resulting litigation, the burden of proof would
be placed on the mineral extractor to prove they did not disturb
the land to that extent.
Dan Gibbs, D-Silverthorne, sponsor of House Bill 1298
This bill requires the COGCC to work with the State Division
of Wildlife in the protection of wildlife.This bill was introduced
in February and calls for new rules to limit habitat fragmentation
caused by roads and closely spaced well pads.
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