Oil and Gas Commission hosts public hearing today

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— Providing input for a piece of Colorado's future is a 154-mile drive away.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission plans to host a daylong public comment hearing regarding its proposed energy drilling regulations from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. today in Grand Junction at the Two Rivers Convention Center, 159 Main St.

It is expected to be the Western Slope's only hearing for the proposed regulations.

It is important for people to take advantage of the comment hearing, said Deb Frazier, Colorado Department of Natural Resources communications director.

"We look forward to listening to what all the parties have to say and using their input to revise the rules," she said.

Residents should not feel their comments will go unnoticed, Frazier said.

"That person (that would feel that way) is underestimating the value of their own thought and their own comments," she said. "Throughout this process, the rules have been changed and altered to reflect the wishes of many people who have contributed their opinions and their beliefs."

The Oil and Gas Commission plans to host other hearings for stakeholder testimony - such as that from industry representatives, local governments and conservation groups - June 30, July 1 and July 15 to 18 in Denver, with locations pending.

Officials anticipate new regulations will be adopted Aug. 12.

In 2007, the state Legislature passed House Bills 1298 and 1341, which required the Oil and Gas Commission to design new regulations to protect Colorado's wildlife and public health interests.

The hearings are designed to hear questions, comments and criticisms on the Oil and Gas Commission's proposed regulations.

A draft release of those regulations was published in March.

Provisions included public health regulations, such as requiring companies to catalog their chemical inventories and make them available to the public and odor restrictions and mitigation standards for operations near homes and schools.

The proposed wildlife regulation drawing the most scrutiny puts annual timing restrictions on drilling to protect mating habitats and other seasonal grounds used by native species, such as sage-grouse and mule deer.

During those times when wildlife uses lands for mating or winter ranging, companies would not be allowed to drill.

The draft rules limit this time to three months each year, and offer companies a chance to be exempt from the timing restrictions by coordinating efforts with the Colorado Division of Wildlife.

Many comments provided from stakeholders thus far have not downplayed the perceived importance for the rules but stressed that the process is important enough that it needs to be done right.

The Colorado Environmental Coalition recently hosted public information meetings in Craig, Steamboat Springs and Meeker to spread awareness about its positions and the upcoming public testimony hearing.

Environmental Coalition members Luke Schafer and Sasha Nelson gave a presentation detailing other regulations they would like to see included.

One was to increase the mandatory distance between a drilling operation and a residence from 150 feet to 1,000 feet. Others included stricter standards for environmental cleanup and provisions to ease the cumulative social burden on local communities such as increased road maintenance and strain on local health care institutions.

Marianna Raftopoulos, a Colorado Oil and Gas Association consultant who lives in Moffat County, said she is worried the proposed regulations will harm the Western Slope economy.

"This is going to be significant," she said. "There are regulations that (the industry) wants and proposed regulations that companies are meeting already. The industry already is regulated. To make anything more restrictive would take the economy we have now - a good, steady economy - for a ride.

"We've been making a significant amount of taxes from these companies. If there's a decrease in activity and those taxes, our economy would definitely reflect that."

Moffat County Commissioner Tom Mathers also is worried about the future of the Northwest Colorado economy.

"I think they've used the DOW as a tool to completely slow down oil and gas development and I don't think it's right," he said. "They're just going to slow down the economy, really, I think."

Collin Smith can be reached at 875-1794 or cesmith@craigdailypress.com

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