Bill would weaken role of DOW

Moffat County supports lessening power in energy development

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In its continuing effort to support the energy industry, the Moffat County Commission cast its support behind House Bill 1255, recently introduced by Colorado House Minority Whip Cory Gardner, R-Yuma.

The bill would weaken the roles of the Colorado Division of Wildlife and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment in the state's new regulatory process for drilling permits.

At their meeting Tuesday, the three commissioners voted unanimously to sign a letter of support addressed to state Rep. Kathleen Curry, D-Gunnison, whose position as House speaker pro tempore makes her the House's top-ranking member.

This marks the Commission's third letter in four weeks that asked other government officials to make considerations for the energy industry.

Marianna Raftopoulos, a Moffat County resident and paid consultant for the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, gave a brief presentation before the Commission signed its letter to Curry.

Raftopoulos, who works for an energy industry trade organization that represents business interests to the state, said the new regulations will continue to harm Colorado's economy if they remain as written.

The state Legislature voted unanimously in 2007 to have the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission create a new set of rules to better protect public health and wildlife in the face of expanding energy development. The agency approved the updated regulations last year.

"One thing the (Oil and Gas Commission) rules have done, jobs have been leaving Colorado," Raftopoulos said. "In Northwest Colorado and Rio Blanco County, rigs are laying down."

She said the state must look at its new regulations carefully and "adjust" them to encourage more investment in the state.

The existing rules seem to allow the DOW a great deal of authority in whether the state approves new drilling permits, Raftopoulos said. Because Moffat County has a significant amount of sagebrush habitat, which includes wildlife winter ranges and sage-grouse mating grounds, the DOW's involvement could make it difficult for companies to work locally.

Ron Velarde, DOW northwest regional manager, told the Commission during a workshop last week that his agency does not want to inhibit industry.

Although it's good to hear such sentiment from DOW officials, Commissioner Tom Gray said, the state needs a clear process in writing to make companies feel secure about development in Colorado.

"What I've been hearing from a couple of operators, while these rules haven't been implemented yet, there is too much uncertainty," Gray said.

David Neslin, acting director for the Oil and Gas Commission, testified on these issues Tuesday to the House Agriculture, Natural Resources and Livestock Committee, of which Gardner is a member.

In his statements to legislators, Neslin disagreed with Raftopoulos' characterization of the DOW's role under the new regulations.

"The Division of Wildlife has no decision-making or regulatory authority," Neslin said.

The new rules maintain the Oil and Gas Commission will consider input from the DOW when it comments on drilling applications, but the final decision lies with his agency's board, he said.

Gardner's proposed bill also would prohibit the DOW and Department of Health directors, who serve on the Oil and Gas Commission board, from hearing any appeals to their departments' comments on drilling applications.

The Legislature intended to bring balance to energy development regulations when it asked the Oil and Gas Commission to develop a new set of rules, Neslin said. In his opinion, Gardner's bill would "undermine that balance," if approved.

The Agriculture Committee planned to vote on Gardner's bill Wednesday night, but did not act before press time.

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