Western Slope Residents, State Leaders Spar Over Oil and Gas Rules at Capitol

By: Tim Ciesco Email
By: Tim Ciesco Email

Western Slope business leaders concerned about new oil and gas rules stormed the Capitol Thursday to voice their frustrations, while those who support the rules held a rally of their own.

It was an early morning for about 80 Grand Junction and Rifle business leaders, who made the 244 mile trek to Denver to ask state leaders to reconsider several controversial oil and gas regulations.

"We couldn't just pick up the phone, we couldn't just email," said Diane Schwenke, President of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce. "We had to come and we had to come in full force."

They joined a handful of Republican leaders and hundreds of other people from across Colorado for a morning rally outside the Capitol. The event was organized by the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, which says the rules will hurt an industry that's already been hit hard, cause more layoffs, and force companies out of Colorado.

"Our ace in the hole was the activity in the energy sector that kept our economy rolling," said Schwenke. "That is now in jeopardy."

Republican lawmakers say the rules are a sign the Democrats in power don't value the energy industry.

"Colorado is losing significantly more [energy activity] than any other state," said Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry, (R) Grand Junction. "There's a strong argument to be made it's because of these rules."

But during a rally of their own, supporters of the rules said that's not the case.

"There are bigger factors at work," said Evan Dreyer, spokesman for Governor Bill Ritter. "A steep downturn in the price of natural gas and the fact that we don't have the pipeline capacity in Colorado to ensure our gas companies are getting the fair price."

They say natural gas is a vital part of their new energy economy.

"Natural gas can be a bridge fuel for us as we head to a different and greater energy future," said Governor Bill Ritter, (D) Colorado. "It's why I asked the President to include in the definition of infrastructure in the stimulus plan, natural gas pipeline."

With supporters of the rules in control of the State Capitol, the group of Western Slope business leaders said they knew they were fighting an uphill battle when they boarded the bus to get there. But they still pressed forward, sitting in the gallery during the House hearing on the rules and speaking with lawmakers as they left the chamber floor. While they say Thursday's initial passage of the rules has left them disappointed, they're proud of their efforts to make their voices heard.

"At the end of the day, we want to feel that we've done everything we could possibly do and fight the good fight," said Schwenke.

The group says it will continue to fight, spending the next several weeks calling state senators and the Governor's Office to voice their concerns with the new rules.

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