By Denver Business Journal

The future of Coloradoâ¿¿s year-old oil and gas operations rules dominated debate Wednesday among the three candidates for governor at the Colorado Oil & Gas Associationâ¿¿s annual natural gas forum.

All three candidates â¿¿ Republicans Dan Maes and Scott McInnis, and Democrat John Hickenlooper â¿¿ agreed that the controversial rules should be changed, but they differed over how much change is needed and how to make any changes.

Maes said he⿿d start with asking ⿿what needs to go⿝ in the rules, and shift the makeup of the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission ⿿ which oversees the industry ⿿ to have more members with a technical background and an industry focus.

In 2007, a law signed by Gov. Bill Ritter expanded the number of commissioners from seven to nine and slashed the number of members with oil and gas industry experience from five to three. The new board members include heads of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the Department of Natural Resources, with the remaining slots going to representatives from local governments, environmental or wildlife protection groups, a member with soil conservation or reclamation experience, and a member from agriculture who also owns mineral rights.

Coloradoâ¿¿s new rules took effect in April 2009, with supporters saying they were needed to protect the environment, wildlife and public health, and oil and gas executives saying that compliance was costly, time consuming, and was diverting capital investment to other regions in the nation.

McInnis said the new rules ⿿have negatively impacted the industry. No one says the rules helped them create jobs or hire people.⿝

McInnis also said he⿿d revamp the oil and gas commission, saying Iit⿿s not a social engineering commission, it⿿s the oil and gas commission.⿝

And McInnis said Hickenlooper has ⿿flip-flopped⿝ on his approach to the rules, citing a July 4 column written by Hickenlooper in The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel.

Hickenlooper wrote that, ⿿I would not throw out or roll back rules regulating oil and gas extraction in our state. Looking back would only reduce the predictability businesses need to operate successfully and undermine protections for our health and environment.⿝

Hickenlooper maintained that stance Wednesday at the COGA forum.

⿿I do think some rules went to far ... [but] I think to reopen them creates instability and conflict,⿝ Hickenlooper said, adding that rewriting the rules, ⿿I believe is an invitation to litigation and polarization.⿝

Hickenlooper said he believes a better path is to work within the oil and gas commissionâ¿¿s framework to change the rules as needed.

The commission on Thursday will hear a petition from the Colorado Petroleum Association to change how plastic pit liners, used to protect soil and groundwater from water and fluids used in drilling and stored in pits, are handled under the rules.

The 2009 rules dictated that pit liners, which prevent fluids used in drilling from spilling onto surrounding lands, be removed for disposal in a waste facility. The association is asking the rules be changed to allow the liners to be buried at the drilling site if certain conditions are met, as was the case before the new rules took effect.

Copyright 2010 American City Business Journals

Copyright 2010