Commission Changeup? Drilling Regulation Bill Makes Way Through Capitol

By: Tim Ciesco Email
By: Tim Ciesco Email

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (KKCO) - Two Grand Valley lawmakers are leading the charge to change who sits on the state board that oversees natural gas permitting.

House Bill 1223, introduced by State Representative Ray Scott and State Senator Steve King, would increase the number of people serving on the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to 11 and increase the proportion of industry representation on the board. It also sets guidelines on who can serve on the board.

For example, it would require that five of the 11 members have "substantial experience in the oil and gas industry" as well as college degrees in petroleum geology or petroleum engineering. It also stipulates that three members must be from west of the Continental Divide.

Other members would include a local government official, an environmental / wildlife protection expert, a soil conservation / reclamation expert, an agricultural producer who is a royalty owner, the State Director of Natural Resources, and the State Director of Public Health and Environment. Under the bill, both state directors would lose their ability to vote.

King says it makes sense to have people who know the industry backwards and forwards make decisions about the industry and believes it will help speed up the permitting process -- which in turn would help boost Colorado's economy.

"Having the best technical experts on the COGCC is in the best interest of our environment and is in the best interest of our economy," said King, (R) Grand Junction.

Opponents of the bill, like local advocacy group Western Colorado Congress, cite Colorado Department of Natural Gas Statistics, which show 2010 was the third highest year in state history for the number of permits issued. They call the bill an attempt to give greater control of the board to industry insiders and weaken the voice of environmentalists.

"If it ain't broke, don't fix it," said Frank Smith, Director of Organizing for Western Colorado Congress. "This current attempt to streamline permitting processes in Colorado is misguided."

The bill has made it through two Republican controlled House committees. The full House is expected to take up the bill Thursday.

King admits it will face a stiff test in the Democratic controlled Senate, but says pass or fail, it at least puts the issue on the table.

The Governor's Office has expressed concerns with bill, particularly the section that takes voting power away from the State Directors of Natural Resources and Public Health. Scott tells 11 News it's unfortunate the Governor would choose not to support a bill that would help the Western Slope's economy during a time it needs a boost most.

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