GOP bill targets gas commission makeup

Lawmaker wants Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation to be 11-member panel

DENVER – A Republican lawmaker who blames former Gov. Bill Ritter for a decline in the gas industry partially backtracked from his plan to undo Ritter’s pro-environmental reforms Wednesday.

Rep. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction, initially wanted his House Bill 1223 to change the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission back to its pre-2007 composition of seven members, with five from the gas and oil industry. Ritter and the Legislature changed it to nine members, only three from the industry. Scott said Wednesday he would change his bill to make it an 11-member panel, with five industry people.

“What was broken in 2007 that we tried to fix?” Scott said. “The answer is, nothing was broken. In 2007, we were on top of the world.”

But hunters, environmentalists and lobbyists for the influential city and county government associations said plenty was broken, because they did not have representation on the commission that issues drilling permits and oversees environmental cleanups.

“For the first time in Colorado’s history, we’ve been able to elevate the importance of wildlife and habitat as a priority instead of an afterthought,” said John Gale of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, at a hearing for the bill at the House Agriculture Committee on Wednesday.

The committee ran out of time and delayed a vote on HB 1223 until Monday.

The 2007 remake of the COGCC became one of Ritter’s toughest political fights, and Republicans and the industry for years have accused him of chasing jobs out of the state.

But early this year, the trade group that represents gas companies dropped its lawsuit against the state and said it now has a good working relationship with regulators. The Colorado Oil and Gas Association still supported Scott’s idea for an 11-person panel on Wednesday.

COGA lobbyist Jim Cole said his group does not want to “gerrymander” the COGCC to repeal the environmental rules.

“Part of what industry needs is some consistency of rules over time because the yo-yo doesn’t help, either,” Cole said.

The 2007 revisions saw multiple daylong hearings, with extensive opposition from gas companies. But the hearing room Wednesday was only half full.

Scott said few gas company executives showed up to testify for his bill because they feared retribution from the government.

The bill came from small Western Slope gas companies, not COGA or big companies, Scott said.

“This didn’t come from the big guys,” he said.

Rep. J. Paul Brown, R-Ignacio, echoed Scott’s thoughts, saying that several friends in the industry are moving to Texas or Oklahoma to find drilling work.

“Regulations costs money. They cost money not only for government, but for private industry,” Brown said.

Cole said the industry is starting a good rebound in Colorado, but not necessarily on the Western Slope. Much of the activity is in a new play in northeast Colorado, he said.

The COGCC issued nearly 6,000 drilling permits last year, the third-highest number in the commission’s history.

jhanel@durango herald.com

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