Tuesday's Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission hearing was attended by hundreds of energy industry representatives. Now, many of them are saying that should several new rules and other strict regulations pass, they will begin to take their companies, money, and jobs out of Colorado.
State leaders say while most of the country is dealing with a downturning economy, residents here on the Western Slope are living the high life.
"Here on the Western Slope, we're an on an island and we're blessed," said State Senator Josh Penry. "And a big reason why is because we have billions of dollars in new investment in the energy sector."
Oil and gas companies estimate that their industry brings in more than $23 billion annually to the state and gives more than 70,000 Coloradans. But they say if the commission imposes several new rules they are considering that could change.
"I can say if they're implemented as currently written today, you will see a mass exodus out of the state," said Ken Leis, owner of Laramie Energy.
"If these rules go into effect, I see Colorado going by the wayside and seventy-thousand plus people going to another state," said Glenn Moltrer, President of the Trinidad Chamber of Commerce and an energy developer himself.
The companies say there's one rule in particular that has them worried. The commission is considering a 90 day halt on all oil and gas drilling in a large portion of Western Colorado to help protect wildlife that some studies suggest are dwindling in number.
"You go to any restaurant, any bank, any business in the world and say what happens to your business if you shut it down for ninety day -- they'll tell you they're not going to do business there anymore," said Senator Penry.
State Representative Bernie Buescher says that can't happen and the commission needs to find a balance between energy and environment. But he says with the industry expected to rapidly grow in the near future, some regulations need to be put in place to help control it. He says if too many companies begin drilling at once, we will see another boom and bust.
"If we can have slow steady growth over the next twenty years, the economy of Mesa County can remain healthy, we can have a lot of good quality jobs and we can protect our environment," said Rep. Buescher.
He says hearings like the one on Tuesday can find that balance.
"I'm confident at the end of the day they'll come up with regulations that work for the industry and work for the environment," said Rep. Buescher.
Others feel differently.
"We hope what happened today with tremendous turnout, that they're going to pay attention," said Leis. "But unfortunately I'm not too sure they're listening to anybody."
The commission is expected to adopt a new set of rules by August. The State Legislature must then approve those rules before they go into effect.
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