Lawmakers approve bill to minimize impact on oil and gas drilling

Lawmakers approve bill to minimize impact on oil and gas drilling

DENVER – Wildlife groups expressed concern Tuesday over Colorado’s booming oil and gas industry and the impact on wildlife, saying state regulators are “stretching the science and the art” without understanding the long-term impact of widespread drilling operations.

Lawmakers on the state House Agriculture, Livestock, & Natural Resources Committee responded by giving their approval to a measure (House Bill 1298) that will require the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to work with state wildlife officials and develop rules by July 2008 to minimize adverse impacts of drilling. The bill now goes to the House Appropriations Committee.

Dennis Buechler of the National Wildlife Federation said drilling operations are driving away wildlife, one of Colorado’s biggest industries.

“We want to work with the industry, but they need to come our way too. We’re talking about permanent scars on the landscape,” Buechler said.

Buechler said he has hunted, fished and camped in drilling areas and he has great concerns about what will happen with oil companies pack up and leave after their drilling is done.

He said most of the time habitat restoration does not work and mitigation is “really stretching the science and the art.”

Wildlife groups said oil and gas supplies are finite resources, and when they’re gone, there will be permanent scars on the landscape.

Clare Bastable of the Colorado Mountain Club said 5,904 drilling permits were issued last year, double the number over the previous two years. She said Colorado needs oil and gas, but it also needs to protect wildlife.

“It need not come at the expense of wildlife habitat,” she said.

Bob Elderkin of the Colorado Mule Deer Association said it’s not just the drilling rigs that are driving away wildlife, it’s the roads, pipelines and the growth of local communities supporting the industry that also has a major impact.

Farmers expressed concern that they would not be consulted on new rules that could affect their land despite assurances they would be involved.

“There must be recognition of the role of private landowners,” said Garin Bray, spokeswoman for the Colorado Farm Bureau.

Stan Dempsey, president of the Colorado Petroleum Association, said he believes the industry can work with wildlife regulators.

“Our members are sportsmen, fishermen and backcountry hunters as well,” he said.

Rep. Wes McKinley, D-Walsh, said there is a lot of debate over the best ways to minimize impact. He said directional drilling can increase the distance between well heads and leave more room for wildlife, but it also increases the time it takes to drill a well.

“When we make rules, we have to be careful,” he said.

The Associated Press

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