The Crestone Eagle, April 2007:

Gov. Bill Ritter promises reform of Colo. Oil & Gas Commission
Record number of drilling applications & complaints filed

Governor Bill Ritter, as part of his “Colorado Promise”, is proposing an overhaul of the state’s oil and gas regulatory agency in a way that balances wildlife and environmental concerns with the way the industry is currently regulated. His administration is in support of a plan to bring changes both to the mission and makeup of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC). Ritter has said that he is not comfortable with the high number of permits being issued. He pledged during his campaign to appoint people to the COGCC whose top priority is the protection of water, public health, and the environment.

COGCC is on track to approve approximately 6,000 permits to drill in 2007. Last year, the commission approved 5,904 permits, setting a record for a third consecutive year. The State of Colorado will most likely have more than 33,000 active wells by the end of 2007. This has raised concerns about the rapidly expanding oil and gas industry in the State and the COGCC’s ability to stay on top of regulation. Faced with 1,500 complaints over the past five years regarding water quality, noise, odor, safety, and public health, state agencies are struggling to find a way to address citizens’ concerns.

HB 1341 bill was filed March 8. The bill cleared the House Agriculture Committee with a vote of 8-5 along party lines. The bill was sponsored by Rep Kathleen Curry D-Gunnison and will be sponsored in the Senate by Senator Jim Isgar D-Hesperus. The Colorado Department of Natural Resources helped to write the bill and Governor Ritter’s office supports it.

Changes proposed include: restating the mission of the COGCC by deleting the words “encourage and promote” with regard to oil and gas development. Instead, it would say “it is in the public interest to foster responsible and balanced development and production of oil and gas in the state in a manner consistent with protecting the health, safety and welfare including protection of environment and wildlife resources.”

The size of the COGCC board would be increased to nine from seven members, while decreasing the number of board members with oil and gas industry affiliations to three from five. Other board members besides those with oil and gas industry affiliations would include a local government official, an expert in soil conservation, an owner of both land and mineral rights, someone engaged in agriculture, and executive directors of the Departments of Natural Resources and Public Health and Environment or their designees.

The definition of waste would be changed to clarify that in determining how much oil and gas resource is recoverable, regulators would have to consider public health, safety, environment, and wildlife resources. Predictably, the Colorado Oil and Gas Association is opposed to the idea that gas could be left in the ground.

Other bills being proposed in the Legislature

Kathleen Curry, D-Gunnison, Sponsor of House Bill 1223
This Bill would require the COGCC to work with Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment on inspection programs and to address health problems linked to waste and production. The House Agriculture, Livestock, and Natural Resources Committee passed the bill after a hearing on March 7. Supporters of the bill, including ranchers from the Western Slope, testified about ailments such as skin conditions, nausea, and headaches they believe to be connected to drilling in their neighborhoods. Oil and gas companies use fluids when they drill wells and fracture rocks. The composition of these fluids is kept confidential. Many residents of Gunnison County believe that these fluids contain toxic chemicals, although there is no hard evidence to support this belief.

“People living in these high-density oil and gas areas are living daily with chronic health problems that are directly caused by mineral extraction,” said Rep. Kathleen Curry, D-Gunnison, sponsor of the bill. Ken Wonstolen, representing the COGCC, said the industry could not support the bill. “Despite the compelling anecdotal evidence, there is no hard evidence on which to base a detailed policy response,” he said.

Kathleen Curry, D-Gunnison, Sponsor of House Bill 1142
This House Bill ensures accountability of the oil and gas industry in reporting revenues and assist the state to accurately collect the right amount of severance tax from oil and gas extraction. The legislation passed unanimously through the House Local Government Committee on March 6 and is now headed to the House floor. The bill is designed to improve the flow of information to the Department of Revenue and the State Assessor’s office while protecting the business interests of the oil and gas industry. By allowing the Department of Revenue access to records concerning the amounts of minerals that oil and gas companies extract and sell, a new level of accountability is created. Currently, this information is not available and the DOR cannot verify that the state is collecting all severance tax revenue due.

Ellen Roberts, R-Durango and Kathleen Curry, D-Gunnison, Co-sponsors of House Bill 1252
This bill is designed to offer property owners more protection for their surface rights. The bill has encountered resistance from oil and gas companies because of language that would make it “trespass” if mineral extractors disturb the land’s surface in an “unreasonable and excessive” manner. In any resulting litigation, the burden of proof would be placed on the mineral extractor to prove they did not disturb the land to that extent.

Dan Gibbs, D-Silverthorne, sponsor of House Bill 1298
This bill requires the COGCC to work with the State Division of Wildlife in the protection of wildlife.This bill was introduced in February and calls for new rules to limit habitat fragmentation caused by roads and closely spaced well pads.