It's a shame more private property protections won't be included in the state's new oil and gas regulations, Moffat County Commissioner Tom Gray said.
The House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee voted, 7-6, on Friday afternoon to indefinitely postpone House Bill 1255, introduced by Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Yuma, who sits on the Agriculture Committee.
The action effectively killed Gardner's bill, which would have weakened the roles of the Colorado Division of Wildlife and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment in the state's new regulatory process for natural resource drilling applications.
The Colorado Oil and Gas Commission created new permitting rules in 2008 after the Legislature voted unanimously to have the agency design better protections for wildlife and public health.
One of the tenets of Gardner's bill, which Gray said was a deciding factor in earning his support, would have boosted private property protections for energy development on private land.
Under the bill, the state would be required to obtain a landowner's consent before any agency could comment on an energy company's drilling application.
"I'm a property rights person," Gray said. "I don't want to force my values on anyone. I want to allow people to do what they choose with their land."
He added that Moffat County does not oppose guarding wildlife and public health interests. However, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission overreached when it established the state's new regulations.
"We support protecting wildlife," Gray said. "I would be OK with the new rules as long as they gave both the property owners and local government the right to not have things shoved down our throat.
"Let's have rules, but let's keep them as close to the ground where development is happening as possible."
Economic concerns still linger for county officials, who often have linked the Oil and Gas Commission's new regulations with dwindling industrial activity in Colorado. Some concerns may not be justified, however.
In his State of the County address Tuesday, Commissioner Tom Mathers said that TransCanada, a Canadian natural resource pipeline company, will not build its Pathfinder natural gas line through Moffat County this year because of the economy and the state's new oil and gas rules.
Jeff Comstock, Moffat County Natural Resources Department director, also connected the state's new rules with TransCanada's decision to delay construction after the Commission's regular meeting Tuesday morning. Contrary to those claims, TransCanada officials said the state's regulations have nothing to do with the company's decision.
"The ongoing conversation in Colorado around what should be appropriate and not appropriate for oil and gas leasing in no way, as far as I know, impacted Pathfinder," said Scott Farris, TransCanada director of government relations. "In fact, it did not impact Pathfinder. That was simply due to the current economic conditions and the credit crunch that our equity partner faced."
TransCanada does not plan to take a position regarding Colorado drilling regulations, Farris added. The company is not a gas producer, and regulations on drilling permits do not affect his company directly.
There seems to be little doubt that the energy industry is investing fewer new dollars in Colorado than in previous years, though.
Marianna Raftopoulos, a Moffat County resident and paid consultant for the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, told the Commission on Tuesday she heard as many as 60 percent of the drilling rigs in the Piceance Basin plan to leave for other states.
Luke Schafer, Craig resident and northwest campaign organizer for the Colorado Environmental Coalition, said the Agriculture Committee's decision Friday should make industry feel more secure going forward.
The energy industry "talks about their uncertainty with the rules, but I think the faster these rules get out there, the sooner that uncertainty will go away," Schafer said.
There still is some hope for Gray's belief in private property rights, however.
Senate Bill 229, sponsored by two democrats, would require the Oil and Gas Commission to obtain a landowner's consent before imposing any wildlife protections on new drilling permits.
The bill was introduced by state Sen. Jim Isgar, D-Hesperus, and will be carried in the House by Speaker Pro Tempore Kathleen Curry, D-Gunnison, who voted against Gardner's bill Friday.