Panel OKs industry-friendly changes to Colorado oil and gas commission

DENVER – A House panel voted Monday to revamp the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission again to restore the influence the gas industry lost in 2007.

House Bill 1223 would add two members from the gas and oil industry to the nine-person commission.

The panel used to have seven members, with five from the industry, before Gov. Bill Ritter and Democrats in the Legislature changed it to be more environmentally friendly.

Legislators also voted to strip voting rights on the commission from the heads of the departments of public health and natural resources. Those two officials got voting rights in Ritter’s 2007 bill.

The House Agriculture Committee voted 6-5 in favor of the bill.

John Ashby, a drilling contractor who used to serve on the old commission, testified in favor of taking it back to its former makeup.

“In my opinion, we had a very effective commission that was able to understand the highly technical nature of today’s oil and gas industry,” Ashby said.

The sponsor, Rep. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction, blamed the environmental rules and the new commission for raising the cost of drilling in Colorado compared to other states.

“Right now, we’re losing. The other states are doing things to compete against us, and they’re winning,” Scott said.

However, the COGCC approved 5,996 drilling permits last year, the most since the recession began and the third-highest in the commission’s history. Rep. Roger Wilson, D-Garfield County, said the 2007 remake of the commission increased public trust that it was policing the gas industry properly.

“That public trust might be the most valuable thing we have going for us in the current makeup,” Wilson said.

The bill now goes to the House Appropriations Committee.

jhanel@durango herald.com

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