Monday, June 8, 2009

Natural Gas Laws in Colorado Painful for Some

By DENNIS WEBB/The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

Sunday, June 07, 2009

PARACHUTE — Mineral owners Saturday assailed a Democratic lawmaker over the state’s new oil and gas rules, while Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott McInnis said new natural gas discoveries across the country are playing the primary role in Colorado’s drilling slowdown.

“The new regulations basically took away my minerals rights,” Tom Rutledge told state Rep. Kathleen Curry, D-Gunnison, at a meeting of the National Association of Royalty Owners in Parachute.

The Grand Junction resident said his land in North Park was declared off-limits to drilling under new rules designed to protect wildlife.

“I didn’t donate my land to become wildlife habitat,” he said.

“I don’t appreciate the tone of this entire discussion,” Curry said after also hearing criticism from other mineral owners, including one who said “Demoncrats” are responsible for taking people’s property rights.

The new rules were pushed by Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter and approved this year by a Democrat-controlled Legislature.

“This is your fight; this isn’t my fight,” McInnis joked to Curry when she asked the Grand Junction resident whether he wanted to jump into Saturday’s debate over the new rules.

McInnis instead gave a speech focusing on the numerous new natural gas plays in other parts of the country that have left the United States awash in natural gas and helped lower prices and reduce local drilling.

McInnis is a former western Colorado congressman who recently filed paperwork to run for governor in 2010. In an interview after his speech, he said the state’s new rules aren’t the central cause of Colorado’s drilling slowdown, although they may be a contributing factor.

He said it’s too early to judge the new rules, and the state has a right to be demanding in its regulation of energy companies.

“I just want it to be balanced. I don’t want it to be punitive. I just want it to be fair,” he said.

Curry, chairwoman of the House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee, said the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission did its best to create rules that balance competing interests.

Oil and gas commission member Tresi Houpt also defended the rules, speaking to mineral owners and in an interview. She said the state hasn’t taken away people’s opportunity to develop their minerals in areas falling under new restricted-surface-occupancy rules. It only requires that they work with the Division of Wildlife to find a way to put in habitat protections, she said.

Diane Roth, a lobbyist for mineral owners, spoke in defense of Curry, saying she has been “one of the best legislative champions on royalty issues.”

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