Gas panel names new director

New agency head helped rewrite drilling rules in 2009

DENVER – The agency that regulates gas and oil development in Colorado has hired its former lawyer to be its new director.

Matthew Lepore is a private attorney in Denver, but he was the assistant attorney general detailed to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission in 2009, when the agency rewrote its rules to focus on environmental and public health.

“We’re pleased to have Matt at the commission’s helm as it balances responsible energy development and protecting the natural beauty of Colorado,” Gov. John Hickenlooper said in a news release. “Matt is a longtime Coloradan whose love and appreciation of the outdoors and experience with legal and natural resource issues make him an ideal leader for the commission.”

Lepore takes the reins at a controversial time for the commission. The rules he helped rewrite in 2009 won the oil and gas commission the accolades of environmentalists after years of complaints that the agency was too close to the gas industry.

But conservationists have begun to turn against the agency – as well as Hickenlooper’s administration – over fears that they are backing away from stronger environmental enforcement.

The COGCC recently sued the city of Longmont for passing a law to regulate hydraulic fracturing inside its city limits. It’s the highest profile blow-up in a struggle over how much power local governments have over energy development.

Dan Randolph, executive director of the San Juan Citizens Alliance, said Lepore has an “interesting history” that includes legal work for both the state and the gas industry.

“He has represented the state and done a good job,” Randolph said. “He has a big task ahead of him with all that’s going on in the state.”

Randolph said he’s “cautiously optimistic” about Lepore, but will reserve judgment until he sees how the new director works.

Lepore will supervise a staff of 70 employees that inspects wells and reviews drilling permits. A nine-person commission, appointed by the governor, sets general policies for the agency.

“I look forward to leading the commission as we continue to bring together people of diverse views to ensure our energy resources are developed with the highest regard for the communities, landscapes and environments that we care for so deeply,” Lepore said in a news release.

jhanel@durangoherald.com

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