State OKs oil and gas rules giving cities, counties limited say

By Dan Elliott, Associated Press

Colorado regulators approved new rules Monday intended to ease the conflicts that arise when oil and gas rigs show up near homes and schools.

DENVER (AP) — Colorado regulators approved new rules Monday intended to ease the conflicts that arise when oil and gas rigs show up near homes and schools, but they came under immediate fire from both the industry and its critics.

The regulations approved by the state Oil and Gas Conservation Commission would allow local governments to consult with energy companies on the location of multiple-well drilling sites, storage tanks and other big facilities in developed areas.

However, the rules generally do not allow local governments to set their own regulations, which many critics of the industry say is vital to protect property values, peace and quiet and public safety.

"What the commission has done today will only exacerbate these confrontations," said Matt Sura, an attorney who represents landowners and local governments in negotiations with energy companies. Sura served on a task force appointed by Gov. John Hickenlooper to address the conflicts over energy development, and some of its recommendations formed the basis for the regulations approved Monday.

The commission's action "doesn't touch what the task force was meant to accomplish," he said.

Colorado Oil and Gas Association President Dan Haley said the rules go further than the task force intended.

The definition of a large facility includes too many types of installations, he said. Haley also said the rules give too many local governments the right to weigh in on the locations, and that the time allowed to resolve the issues is too long.

Hickenlooper convened the task force near the peak of Colorado's energy boom, as oil and gas fields were expanding and overlapping with growing suburbs, especially along the populous Front Range. The collapse in oil prices has put the brakes on the industry.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, intensified the conflicts. Some people argue fracking is a health risk, but the industry says it's safe.

Fracking involves injecting water, sand and chemicals under high pressure to fracture underground formations and release oil and gas.

Battles over whether local governments should be able to regulate the industry are also underway in the courts, and the issue could get onto the 2016 ballot.

The state Supreme Court is deciding whether Longmont and Fort Collins can ban or suspend fracking. Some groups are hoping to get measures on the November ballot that would allow communities to regulate the energy industry within their boundaries.

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