Member of Colorado’s first full-time oil, gas commission is leaving

A member of Colorado’s first full-time commission overseeing the state’s multibillion-dollar oil and gas industry is leaving for another job.

Priya Nanjappa announced late last week that she is taking a job as vice president of conservation programs at the National Parks Conservation Association. Her last day at the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission will be Tuesday.

Nanjappa served as the commissioner with experience in environmental protection, wildlife protection or reclamation. Her replacement will have the same kind of background.

The five members represent a mix of environment, industry, public health and local government interests.

Nanjappa helped put in place robust protections for Colorado as part of the implementation of Senate Bill 181, a 2019 law that revamped state oil and gas regulations, Dan Gibbs, executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources said in a statement.

“Her knowledge and experience helped to shape policy that will now deliver protections to all of Colorado,” said Jeff Robbins, chairman of the commission.

Gov. Jared Polis named Nanjappa and four others to the commission in June 2020. The commission’s change from a volunteer body to a full-time professional one was part of SB 181’s mandate to prioritize protecting public health, safety and the environment when regulating oil and gas.

Since their appointment, the five commissioners have approved a series of new rules, including financial assurances companies must provide to ensure well sites will be cleaned up when production stops; expanded opportunities for the public to weigh in on drilling proposals; more analysis of proposed well sites intended to protect public health and safety; and new requirements to cut emissions.

From the start, the new full-time commission was at the center of intense debate. Proponents of stronger regulations have pushed for quicker adoption of new rules and have argued that the intent of SB 181 is undermined by too many exceptions written into the regulations.

The industry and supporters have said Colorado’s previous rules were among the strongest in the country and that new requirements have hampered drilling, undercutting the state’s economy.

Nanjappa’s resignation came a day after the commission denied an application by Kerr-McGee, a subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum, to drill 33 wells near a neighborhood in Firestone. Kerr-McGee agreed to additional safeguards recommended by state health officials, but Nanjappa and three other commissioners voted against the proposal because of concerns about the impacts on area residents.

Nanjappa said she enjoyed the work and the opportunity “to engage with all of the incredibly passionate stakeholders.”

The state Senate will vote on Nanjappa’s successor. COGCC spokeswoman Megan Castle said it’s unclear when a replacement  will be named.

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