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Colo. lawmakers approve landmark oil, gas rules

The Colorado Legislature has given final approval to landmark new regulations for oil and gas drilling, despite warnings from opponents that the rules will hobble an ailing industry and eliminate jobs amid a deep recession.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The Colorado Legislature has given final approval to landmark new regulations for oil and gas drilling, despite warnings from opponents that the rules will hobble an ailing industry and eliminate jobs amid a deep recession.

Backers say the rules will bring long-overdue protections to the public, the environment and wildlife.

The Senate passed the regulations Wednesday on a straight party-line vote and sent them to Gov. Bill Ritter.

Ritter made overhauling the oil and gas regulatory system a priority after taking office two years ago. He plans to sign the legislation but hasn't set a date yet, spokesman Evan Dreyer said.

The rules give more weight to public health and safety, wildlife habitat and migration, and environmental protection when state regulators consider applications for new oil and gas wells.

Lawmakers passed bills in 2007 ordering the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to rewrite the rules amid widespread public sentiment that the existing rules favored drilling at the expense of other considerations. With Ritter's backing, lawmakers also changed the makeup of the commission itself to include more representatives from outside the oil and gas industry.

The energy industry was booming then and conflicts were frequent. Residents blamed health problems on pollution from the wells, property owners complained about damage to their land, and state wildlife managers and environmental groups warned of threats to wildlife and habitat. The changes also got the backing of environmentalists, hunters and anglers.

The new rules headed back to the Legislature this year technically just to make sure they, along with other more routine rules from other state agencies, fell within the legal boundaries set by lawmakers.

But opponents, mainly Republicans, tried to change some of the rules partly because they feared they could cost the state more oil and gas jobs during the recession.

They introduced several separate bills, including one to delay the rules by a year, but all of them failed.

Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, said jobs in his district were at stake and criticized majority Democrats for going along with Ritter, a fellow Democrat, in backing a key part of his agenda.

"Just because Bill Ritter says it's right doesn't mean it's right," said Penry, who is considering challenging Ritter in next year's election.