DENVER - Sen. Jim Isgar may have some reservations about the proposed gas and oil regulations, but he cleared a path for the final battle over the rules by killing his own bill in the Legislature.
The Hesperus Democrat's bill, which died Tuesday, focused on a narrow part of the rules passed by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission last year. Those rules addressed everything from chemical disclosure and odors to new permit procedures and wildlife protections.
The wildlife rules have been the trickiest, because they force the commission to balance the property rights of surface landowners and the underground gas owners, plus the need to protect wildlife.
Isgar thought the rules gave the state Division of Wildlife too much control over private land, so he introduced Senate Bill 229. It would have given landowners the final say over wildlife protections on their property, but if they didn't agree to any actions to protect animals, drillers could sink their well anyway and improve habitat offsite.
"I think it was the best way to balance those three competing interests without one trumping the others," Isgar told the Senate Local Affairs Committee on Tuesday.
But Isgar had few allies. Farmers and ranchers, environmentalists, sportsmen, the Department of Natural Resources and the gas industry all found something not to like about it, he said.
"I hate to give up on something, but I'm prepared at this point to ask you to put me out of my misery," Isgar told committee members.
The panel voted 5-1 to kill the bill. The rules start going into effect April 1, as long as the Legislature approves them.
The broader fight over the rules begins Friday, when the Rule Review Committee has scheduled a hearing.
The Legislature's legal staff recommended four of the rules be repealed, including the controversial wildlife one Isgar wanted to change. The rule requires gas companies to consult with the Division of Wildlife before drilling a well. However, the burden to consult ought to be placed on the government, not the companies, wrote Thomas Morris of the Office of Legislative Legal Services.
To COGCC Director Dave Neslin, it's a minor change.
The commission always intended that the Division of Wildlife be responsible for consulting with the commission's staff. But in the real world, most gas companies will want to talk to the DOW.
"Whether you want to call that consultation or not, you're going to want to have that conversation, and to do it before you get a permit," Neslin said.
However, changing the rule even a little bit would require a new hearing, complete with public comment and input from the industry.
Stan Dempsey of the Colorado Petroleum Association said his group had pointed out problems with the rules from the start. The association also opposed several other rules that Morris's memo endorsed. Dempsey thinks the Legislature has authority to approve or deny any of the rules, regardless of Morris's review.
Friday's hearing is scheduled to begin around noon. Public testimony will be allowed.