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Colorado's New Safety-Minded Oil And Gas Agency Gets To Work

KUNC File Photo

The new-look Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission held its inaugural meeting on Tuesday as it begins rewriting state rules to emphasize public safety and the environment instead of energy production.

It's the first time the commissioners have met since Democratic Gov. Jared Polis signed a law mandating sweeping changes in regulations.

The previous law said encouraging production was regulators' top priority. In addition to the new focus on protecting the public and the environment, the law gives local governments some authority over the location of wells and changes the commission makeup to dilute industry influence.

The law reduces the number of commissioners with oil and gas experience from three to one while adding experts in wildlife and public health. Polis announced the new members on Friday.

Republicans also saw their influence on the commission wane, echoing their losses in the 2018 election. The new commission has four appointed Democratic members, two unaffiliated members and one Republican. The old commission had four appointed Democrats and three Republicans.

Commission staff members have already begun rewriting administrative and procedural rules and have held preliminary meetings and released some proposals. But the commissioners themselves are still reorganizing, and work on rewriting substantive drilling rules isn't expected to begin until later this year.

Only two commissioners are holdovers: Howard Boigon, who has oil and gas experience, and Erin Overturf, who has experience in environmental protection. Boigon is an oil and gas attorney and Overturf works for the environmental group Western Resource Advocates. Both are Democrats.

Commission spokesman Chris Arend said four other members of the old commission applied for reappointment but were passed over: Ashley Ager, John Benton, James Hawkins and Kent Jolley.

Polis' spokeswoman, Shelby Weiman, did not directly answer a question about why those four were not chosen but said the new commission has the geographic and political diversity as well as the expertise needed to implement the new law. She said Polis appreciates the service of the former commissioners.

Once all the rules are rewritten, the commission will be replaced by a smaller version including five appointed, full-time commissioners and the heads of two state departments, natural resources and public health. The current commission consists of seven appointed, part-time members and the two department heads.

The new rules and the reshuffled commission are part of Colorado's latest attempt to balance its booming oil and gas industry with a burgeoning population. The state's crude oil production has quadrupled since 2010, it now ranks sixth in the nation in both oil and natural gas output, according to the U.S. Energy Information Agency.

But the state's most productive oil and gas field — the Wattenberg field north and east of Denver — borders on some fast-growing communities, raising fears about the dangers of air and water pollution, fires and explosions.

Copyright 2019 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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