July 22, 2008

Plan Would Help Drilling Near Wildlife

By Ed Sealover

State Senate Republicans vowed to try to cut gas prices Monday by easing restrictions on drilling near wildlife and by fighting efforts to slow exploration of the Roan Plateau.

Gov. Bill Ritter and a key Senate Democrat argued, however, that oil and gas production is on the rise and the restrictions that are in place serve as a balance between the industry and the environment.

Monday's news conference was the first organized effort by GOP legislators to address what has become among the most talked-about issues in America. While the General Assembly cannot tap into strategic petroleum reserves or loosen federal regulations on mineral extraction, it can take steps to increase production in the state, members and Republican candidates said.

Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray, put forward a draft bill that would scale back rules designed to protect animals in areas that they share with platforms. Brophy's measure also would reduce from months to days the amount of time it takes to get drilling permits and would give tax benefits to companies that increase production incrementally.

Sen. Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, argued also that Republicans need to work the bully pulpit as well. Specifically, they need to stop environmental groups from pressuring Ritter into joining their protests against a federal plan to begin leasing western Colorado's Roan Plateau for drilling next month, he said.

Ritter spokesman Evan Dreyer noted that drilling permits have increased from an average of 426 per month in the two years before he took office to 565 per month since January 2007. Ritter is considering protesting the Bureau of Land Management plan because he wants drilling to be phased in, a strategy that would allow for greater economic return, Dreyer said.

Sen. Dan Gibbs, a Silverthorne Democrat who wrote the Colorado Wildlife Stewardship Act, which is meant to reduce drilling's adverse effects on surrounding species, added that the idea that the new law is hindering production in the state is "a huge leap to make."

He said he hopes the new rules to protect the hunting, fishing and wildlife viewing industries will be allowed to go into place before someone tries to change them.

Originally published by Ed Sealover, Rocky Mountain News.

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