Drilling Advances Prompt Escalating Fight In Colorado

DENVER (AP) – New technology is putting oil and gas drills closer to populated areas than ever before — creating tension in Colorado over who regulates where drilling can and can’t be done.

The escalating dilemma has state lawmakers considering whether to step into a standoff between energy companies and Colorado communities as the oil and gas industry creeps ever closer to neighborhoods, schools and streams.

Local governments concerned with what they see as encroachment in the forms of horizontal drilling and fracking have responded by imposing new regulations on drilling rigs.

The industry cried foul, prompting Attorney General John Suthers, a Republican, to warn Arapahoe and El Paso counties along Colorado’s densely-populated Front Range to back off.

Suthers, writing on behalf of the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission, which oversees state rules, told Arapahoe County that “responsible government requires uniform regulation” — in other words, that the state had jurisdiction and local officials couldn’t go their own way.

Arapahoe officials changed course. And El Paso’s county commission is expected to make a decision this month.

Politicians from both parties have suggested that they’ll rally to the side of the energy companies, which employ some 190,000 people in Colorado and contribute more than $18 billion a year to the state economy, according to industry estimates.

Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, a geologist, said in his State of the State address that his administration would work with various counties to soothe tensions.

“The state can’t have 64 or even more different sets of rules” for drilling, Hickenlooper said.

Republican House Speaker Frank McNulty hinted at the same in his opening remarks to his chamber.

“While we do respect local control, we understand that there are areas that have historically been the responsibility of the state, including the development of traditional energy,” McNulty said. “This session, we will fight to preserve the historic relationship between the state of Colorado and energy development.”

The head of the oil and gas commission, Dave Neslin, said local regulations “impede the responsible and balanced development of our oil and gas industry.”

State primacy in drilling regulation won’t be an easy sell, though.

Already, some Democratic lawmakers are talking about legislation to give local governments more say over drilling in their jurisdictions.

Democratic Rep. Matt Jones of Louisville is one of them. Jones said drilling has been proposed within 350 feet of schools in his district and that existing regulations need an update because of new technology.

“It’s good to have jobs. It’s good to have energy from natural gas. We just need to do it responsibly, and the local governments need to be involved,” Jones said.

Another Democrat, Aurora Rep. Su Ryden, has proposed a bill increasing the statewide drilling setback from 350 feet to 1,000 feet.

One powerful lobby at the state Capitol, the group Colorado Counties Inc., is watching closely.

“Whenever the state starts talking about pre-empting local control, it always gets us concerned,” said CCI’s legislative coordinator, Andy Karsian. He predicted “strong push-back” if McNulty or other lawmakers introduce a bill to strengthen state authority over drilling rules.

“We have specific authority … to regulate the land within our jurisdictions,” Karsian said.

Tisha Schuller, president and CEO of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, a trade association, argues that local governments can’t dictate drilling rules. She said her group would reach out to local governments to soothe tensions and hold monthly meetings “so they understand the limits of what their authority is.”

Some governments are too quick to try to regulate drilling before energy companies have decided to drill commercially, Schuller said.

“Some of this rush could close down exploration activity pre-emptively,” she added.

Neslin, of the oil and gas commission, said the agency is seeking state funding for two additional positions called “local government liaisons.” He said he hopes that increased communication with the industry will placate local governments and convince lawmakers that new laws aren’t needed.

“There are multiple opportunities for local governments to participate” without a new law, he said.

– By Kristen Wyatt, AP Writer.

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

  • kathleenpost

    How about a class action lawsuit by the people harmed in Rifle this year?Tourism industry,ranching ,farming,pure water flowing out of this state to people needing it,fossil water pollution’s,wildlife, and national Forest’s ,dictate that we must as a local community stand against hydro gas fracturing.Its not just an oil well,the oil industry wants to ruin the water air and property value’s.Right…no problem.In Routt County the oil industry is not established historically and we don’t want the fracking.That judge has no right to make a decision like that.Who do we sue for damages?The government is responsible?No the people must live or die from cancer from his decision.Hopefully not,we will make them do it safely,monitor it all,roads included,emergency response ,spill and explosion cleanup,water consumption(it can take billions of gallons of water to frack one well,air emissions monitoring earthquakes have have been proven to be caused in Ohio from hydro gas fracturing,sign and fence off facility’s so no more teens die in oil tank explosions,”No place to hang out”safety video about over 44 teens killed in explosions in unsigned and fenced facility’s,Wyoming has water with benzene.The people and local community’s are who will stand up and protect the places where they live and own.No we as a people need a say…..Not a judge to tell us to shut up and get used to it.NOT!

  • Asodeska

    This is a good article, well written and inclusive. The radical environmentalists, such as above, need to realize that their mythologies don’t wash. People with bad water, mostly had it before any drilling was done in their area, and are trying to get the drilling companies to pay for what is their problem. People don’t like change. There is no evidence that that tiny earthquake in Ohio was caused by drilling, and even if it was, it was so small it did no damage.44 teens killed in oil tank explosions? How come the news media have never mentioned this? Benzene is caused primarily by natural leakage, not drilling.
    Beware the Radical Environmentalists. They have already cost us 160,000 jobs by blocking the Canada pipeline that goes through an area that already has thousands of miles of pipeline without problems.

  • BunnySlippers

    Remember, state and local governments must balance landowner rights to develop their minerals (including oil and gas) against the rights of the surface owners. Point is, that if they try to stop drilling or put onerous rules in, it will just result in lawsuits that local governments can’t afford to defend (and will likely lose).

    I believe these problems can be fixed if industry and local governments hold adult conversations. The article points out that Colorado has a large and vibrant oil and gas community and, while the radicals may not believe it, they care about this state, too. I think if the cities asked oil and gas professionals in their communities to help, they would gladly volunteer to help the local staffs at the counties and cities write drilling regulations that would balance everyone’s interests, develop resources and protect communities.

    • Randy Verret

      Agreed. We all need to work together, industry, communities & the various regulatory agencies. We need to talk more with each other, not AT each other.

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