GLENWOOD SPRINGS — Activists demanding tougher rules for the oil and gas industry had two words for state Rep. Kathleen Curry when she appeared for a town hall meeting Thursday night: Thank you.
Over 100 area residents filled a room at the community center as Curry and state House Speaker Terrance Carroll, of Denver, appeared. Some wore cowboy boots. Some wore hiking boots. Most wanted to hear about proposed oil and gas rules set for a committee vote next Friday before they can be voted on by the House and Senate.
The Grand Valley Citizens Alliance held a rally in front of the community center holding signs praising Curry for her support of rules meant to improve protections for landowners, wildlife and the environment. Some wore stickers reading “Clean air, clean water, common sense.”
“This is big for us,” said GVCA President Randy Fricke. “Everybody has worked so hard for so many years. This is a milestone for the environmental community.”
Environmentalists are optimistic the rules will pass. The proposed regulations are part of a massive rules package put forward by Gov. Bill Ritter’s administration that would govern a gamut of state administration.
Curry said she was less optimistic, and said more fights are certain to come, especially as legislators from districts far from oil and gas fields start to take a look at the proposed regulations.
“There will be vigorous debate on the merits of the rules. No question,” she said.
GVCA members plan to lobby legislators in Denver on Monday and attend the hearing to talk about their concerns about impacts by the energy industry.
The proposed rules followed months of debate and compromise between landowners, environmentalists and the oil and gas industry. The industry balked at an initial set of rules intended to protect Western Slope deer and elk herds. Those rules called for seasonal drilling bans if energy companies failed to present plans to mitigate their impacts.
The compromise rules offer scaled back wildlife protections and rules meant to safeguard air and water quality. Some of the more controversial elements were eliminated, including waste pits regulations, well setbacks from homes and reclamation requirements.
Critics say the rules still impose too high a burden on oil and gas operations, which are already reducing their presence in Garfield County, the most actively-drilled county in the state, dealing a further blow to the county’s economy.
“I think it’s bad timing,” said Garfield County Commissioner John Martin. “It’s a little onerous. It’s a little bit invasive.”
Martin complained that cities and counties impacted by the energy industry and the proposed rules got little chance to offer testimony.
Trési Houpt, a fellow Garfield County commissioner who serves on the state Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, praised the proposed rules.
“We live in the Rocky Mountains and a beautiful, pristine area that people travel from around the world to appreciate and enjoy,” she said. “It’s pretty amazing that we’re faced with trying to find a balance with utilizing and trying to protect all our resources — the resources on top of the ground as well as below.”
Curry faced questions on a wide range of issues, from a measure to boost fees for license plate renewals to fund highway and bridge repairs, to one to require seat belts on school buses. But when Curry asked who was interested in the oil and gas rules, most in the crowd raised their hands.
“Everyone that doesn’t have a cowboy hat,” said one man, cowboy hat in hand.
“And a couple that do,” another said.
The hearings on the new rules package are expected to be available live online at the General Assembly’s Web site, www.leg.state.co.us .