Monday, March 7, 2011

Colorado HB-1223 seeks to redo Oil and Gas Conservation Commission

With last November’s electoral gains, Republicans have introduced assorted bills aimed at overturning legislation from the era of Democratic former Gov. Bill Ritter. Among those efforts is one to reshape the powerful Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, whose rule-making authority gives it a pivotal role in regulating energy exploration statewide.

House Bill 1223, introduced by Rep. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction, would return the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to its makeup prior to 2007. In that year, the number of members on the commission was expanded from seven to nine. The 2007 legislation added the executive directors of the Departments of Public Health and Environment and Natural Resources as ex officio voting members at the behest of the Ritter administration.

Both sides of the debate contend they are trying to create or maintain the correct “balance” of interests on the commission.

“We’ve been seeing an uptick in drilling permits issued across the state,” said Pam Kiely, program director with Environment Colorado. ”But we’re figuring out a way to tap these natural resources in a way that best protects our public health, our environment, our wildlife, and our drinking water. That’s of utmost importance to people across the state, and I think it’s critical that that balance is maintained.”

Scott, however, argues that the commission is currently weighted against energy industry producers.

“(The bill) makes the commission less of a heavy-handed commission, because we don’t need voting members from state government on a commission like this,” he said. “It creates uncertainty for the industry. At any one time, somebody within the bureaucracy could decide they just want to change something.”

Kiely said she sees no need for change.

“Since 2008, when the composition of the board changed, the industry has been booming across the state,” she said. “It would be interesting to see if there’s actually a problem that this bill is trying to address. You don’t see the industry clamoring to make changes to the regulatory environment right now.”

At issue is whether the ex officio members provide a “layman’s” concern and voice for the environment and public health concerns, or whether they lack the expertise to make decisions that won’t unnecessarily hamper the industry.

“It’s a very technical industry,” says Scott. ”There’s a lot of redundancy in the oil and gas regulations, and we feel that came from the fact that there wasn’t enough education on that board. It gives the governor’s office a very heavy hand in an industry. When we’re dealing with the No. 1 industry in the state, we have to be careful about that.”

Via – Colorado News Agency

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