Gubernatorial hopefuls target Colo. energy rules

AP News
Posted: Nov 25, 2009 9:49 AM

One Republican in the race to become Colorado's next governor is pledging to repeal new oil and gas regulations if elected, and the front-runner for the GOP nomination says he would consider abolishing the rules approved on the Democratic incumbent's watch.

Evergreen businessman Dan Maes told The Daily Sentinel in Grand Junction on Monday that he would quickly try to abolish the rules if elected. A spokesman for former U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis, a 12-year Colorado congressman who has been the leading GOP fundraiser, says the candidate would consider revamping the rules after talking to interest groups.

Critics say the rules promoted by Gov. Bill Ritter and approved by the Legislature this year are burdensome and costly and have contributed to the downturn in the state's oil and gas industry. The changes include requiring buffer zones to protect waterways, minimizing drilling's effects on wildlife, and giving landowners more notification of proposed drilling.

McInnis spokesman Sean Duffy said Tuesday that "having the most punitive rules in the nation" has been a big mistake.

"As the industry was hurting, as the economy in general was hurting," Duffy said, "in comes this very anti-industry, anti-jobs approach."

Ritter and other supporters of the rules say low natural gas prices, tight credit markets and a lack of pipeline capacity in the region have more to do with the declining production than Colorado's regulations. He has urged federal officials to quickly certify a proposed pipeline that would ship gas to the West Coast.

"These are very balanced rules that allow us to protect the environment and our communities and at the same time responsibly develop Colorado's clean-burning natural gas," Ritter's spokesman, Evan Dreyer, said Tuesday.

The rules implement 2007 laws requiring more weight be given to health, wildlife and environmental concerns when making decisions about oil and gas development. The laws were passed amid record-breaking rates of natural gas drilling and complaints from landowners, conservationists, hunters and anglers about the impacts.

"The unfortunate thing that has occurred is a nationwide drop in the commodity prices," Dreyer said. "The prices have hurt the industry nationwide."

Industry officials have complained that the revised rules have significantly increased the time it takes for an energy company to get a permit.

Since Colorado's rules took effect in April, the wait for a permit has jumped to an average of 90 days, said Nate Strauch, spokesman for the Colorado Oil and Gas Association. That's about 10 times the national average, he said.

The trade group has sued to overturn the regulations.

State officials have said there was a large backlog earlier this year as companies tried to beat the new rules, but wait times dropped to an average of about 45 days by September. The goal is to cut the time to 30 to 40 days.

Suzanne O'Neill of the Colorado Wildlife Federation, which includes hunters and anglers, said the rules were a compromise that she considers the minimum necessary to protect western Colorado's deer and elk herds and other wildlife.

"It's really important to enable Colorado to remain attractive to sportsmen, other outdoors enthusiasts and tourists," O'Neill said. "It's important to our heritage."

Brett Corsentino, a fourth-generation dairy farmer in south-central Colorado, said he and other landowners near Walsenburg have complained that gas drilling in the area affected their water wells, and the high-sodium wastewater dumped in a creek has damaged fields irrigated with the water.

State regulators have halted the drilling while the problems are addressed.

"Gov. Ritter, he at least sees the need for some type of rules and regulations to monitor these gas companies," Corsentino said.

The farmer said he doesn't believe the new rules have caused the oil and gas slump.

"What has hindered these companies is overproduction. I know about that because I'm a dairy farmer," he said.