Commission: Regulations bad for business |

Commission: Regulations bad for business

New regulations giving approval powers to DOW, Health Department cause concerns

Collin Smith
An oil rig stands, surrounded by growing grass, near the entrance of the Yampa Valley Golf Course earlier this year.
Courtesy Photo

— Moffat County officials are concerned the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission might adopt regulations that could chase away energy development.

Earlier this year, Colorado’s Legislature passed two bills requiring the Colorado Division of Wildlife and the Colorado Department of Health and Environment have more input on energy industry development.

House Bill 1298 calls for DOW input to be involved in decisions on oil and well locations.

HB 1341 calls for entities relating to public health and environment concerns to be on the Oil and Gas Commission board and involved in energy development discussions.

The Oil and Gas Commission released its rough draft of how it would regulate those requirements and asked stakeholders – such as landowners and industry and government officials – to provide comments and criticism.

At its meeting Tuesday, the Moffat County Commission approved a letter drafted by Jeff Comstock, Moffat County natural resources director, suggesting amendments to the plan.

For one, the Oil and Gas Commission plans to enforce laws for DOW and Department of Health input by requiring them to sign off on new oil and gas wells before companies can drill.

Before, the DOW made comments to energy companies but had no authority in drilling activity, DOW spokesman Randy Hampton said.

“The DOW does site visits now for any wildlife impact,” Comstock said. “This bumps up their input ahead of time, before a company is allowed to drill.”

Another concern is that the DOW and Health Department have 60 days to clear well sites for drilling, which Comstock said likely is not enough time for those agencies to turn around clearances due to the high amount of activity on the Western Slope and around the state.

“So, in the letter, we commented that if these (sign-offs) are not done in 60 days, let energy companies proceed and not use this as a delay tactic,” Comstock told the Moffat County Commission.

He advised the commission that the regulations could make energy companies go elsewhere, places without so much “bureaucratic red tape.”

“Ultimately, this results in a lot more regulations of gas companies,” Comstock said. “If the rules make it tougher to drill, we’ll probably see less wells.”

The county commissioners expressed concern that this new plan is part of a pattern that has state powers taking authority away from local governments.

Gov. Bill Ritter campaigned on a platform that he would work with local officials, and he shows no signs of doing that so far, Commissioner Tom Gray said.

“To come in and say, ‘We’re going to manage that (energy development) based on what we think,’ that seems wrong,” Gray said.

Commissioner Tom Mathers agreed, and said the Commission needs to start being more vocal on the state level.

“I think we need to send a message to the governor, that the ‘g’ in governor does not mean God,” Mathers said.

Officials from the Oil and Gas Commission, DOW and Department of Health disagreed with the commissioners’ assessment.

This is the beginning of a long process, said Tricia Beaver, Oil and Gas Commission hearings manager.

“There will be many, many opportunities to make comments over the next couple months,” Beaver said. “The whole rule-making thing is going to be a very open and lengthy process.”

Beginning the week of Jan. 8, the Oil and Gas Commission will invite stakeholders to participate in different workgroups that will iron out criticisms raised through the comment process.

County officials will be part of that process, Beaver said.

The Oil and Gas Commission plans to have recommendations from workgroups by the week of Feb. 11 and then begin drafting final regulations, which the Oil and Gas Commission board will review sometime around June, Beaver said.

During the approval process, anyone can submit their own draft regulations to the Oil and Gas Commission for approval, including government officials and private citizens, Beaver added.

“We anticipate areas where we will not be able to reach consensus on,” Beaver said, “and that’s why we have such a long process and allow people to submit their own drafts of rules.”

The DOW has worked with the energy industry ever since it came to Colorado, Hampton said. He does not expect the industry to be afraid of DOW input because they generally know the agency’s concerns and work around them already.

“Nothing we’re talking about will be surprising to the energy industry or the environmental community,” Hampton said. “We work with industry. The nature of what they do – extract natural resources from below the ground – and the nature of what we do – protect wildlife resources – in the nature of those two things, there may be times when they go into conflict.

“What we’ve found, for the most part, the energy industry is interested in doing things in a wildlife-friendly manner.”