DENVER - A Republican attempt to scale back new rules for gas and oil production ended in confusion Wednesday night.House Bill 1255 by Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Yuma, is still alive after the House Agriculture Committee voted 7-6 to delay it until at least next week.
Gardner's bill would let drillers decide not to consult with the Division of Wildlife before getting a permit. New rules adopted by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission would require DOW consultation in some cases. The rules will begin taking effect in April, if the Legislature approves them next month.
Gardner's bill, though, would have softened the rules before the legislative review. His bill also would have forbade the state from putting private land off limits to drilling without consent of the landowner.
"It's the surface owner who knows what's best for wildlife on his land," Gardner said.
It appeared to be headed for defeat when committee Chairwoman Kathleen Curry, D-Gunnison, tried to pull the bill so she could work on amendments to salvage it.
"A lot of us have heard some good, compelling testimony and want to work on this bill," Curry said.
But a Gardner ally - Rep. Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch - moved to vote on the bill right away, which likely would have killed it. Instead, the committee voted to follow Curry's wishes and reconsider the bill later.
Gardner's bill - and the oil and gas commission rules - are entangled in a long-running debate about property rights. Like most Democrats, Curry publicly supports the rules, but she also has expressed worries that they might harm private property rights. Sen. Jim Isgar, D-Hesperus, has similar concerns. Isgar attended the House hearing Wednesday.
The issue is tricky because two property rights are involved - one on the land surface and the other for the underground gas.
Critics say the rules could harm the private property rights of either the surface owners or the gas owners. Gardner said drillers and the oil and gas commission would be able to force landowners to accept a well where they don't want it.
"It basically puts the DOW and the operator in a position where they're trying to coerce the private landowner to meet their needs," Gardner said.
And Isgar has said that surface owners could use the wildlife rules as an excuse to block wells on their land.
The argument has raged since 2007, when the Legislature told the oil and gas commission to write rules to protect wildlife and public health.
The rules will be reviewed next month in a catch-all bill that covers all the rules passed by all state agencies. A different committee will handle that bill, so agriculture committee members used Gardner's bill as a chance to vent their frustrations over the rules in a hearing that stretched into the evening.
Wednesday's delay means they likely will get more time to debate next week.