Dave Neslin, the director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission—the state agency in charge of regulating oil and gas operators who’ve created much uproar and controversy in Boulder County through their use of hydraulic fracturing—announced he will step down from his industry oversight position to join Davis Graham & Stubbs, a Denver law firm that represents (you guessed it) oil and gas companies.
Davis Graham & Stubbs counts Encana Oil & Gas among its clients, the well operator that sparked a fracking controversy in Erie with plans to open an eight-well drilling pad just a few hundred yards from both of its elementary schools. Just weeks ago, Neslin attended an Erie Board of Trustees meeting to discuss fracking in his role as industry watchdog. Encana representatives were also present at the meeting and, as of March 1, he’ll be part of Encana’s outside legal team.
“This says a lot about where he’s been coming from when he’s been at public hearings for God knows how long,” said Erie resident Wendy Leonard, a member of an anti-fracking grassroots group called Erie Rising.
As an organization, Erie Rising had no comment on Neslin’s move, said spokeswoman April Beach.
Davis Graham & Stubbs represented Encana as recently as last year, when it petitioned the state engineer for a finding that certain groundwater formations beneath Encana oil fields in Garfield County were “nontributary,” meaning Encana wouldn’t need to go through the added cost and headache of obtaining a water permit for extracting it as a byproduct of drilling activities from deep below the surface.
Chris Richardson, the law firm’s managing partner, said that although Encana is a client, they don’t get involved in the company’s day-to-day operational issues, which are usually left to in-house lawyers. Therefore, Encana spokeswoman Wendy Weidenbeck said, Neslin’s new job would have no impact on local issues.
Still, Davis Graham & Stubbs touts many areas of expertise among its lawyers that are of direct concern to Erie residents. On the law firm’s website are links to presentations detailing strategies for dealing with lawsuits alleging fracking-related health effects and updates on pending litigation and regulatory issues.
And regulatory issues are Neslin’s forte. Appointed as acting director of COGCC in 2007, he “piloted the overhaul of Colorado’s drilling regulations—a long and politically charged exercise,” writes the Denver Post. Thanks to Neslin, Colorado has what are widely regarded to be some of the toughest drilling regulations in the country and Davis Graham & Stubbs is clearly excited to have him on board to help its oil and gas clients navigate them.
“Dave’s expertise and history with the COGCC will be a tremendous asset to our energy clients who are committed to developing their projects in a responsible manner,” Richardson is quoted as saying in a press release.
To be sure, the law firm represents more oil and gas companies than just Encana. Richardson would only say that there are a “variety of them.” The law firm’s website goes into a bit more detail:
“These clients range from individuals, partnerships, independents, and small companies to major joint ventures and Fortune 500 companies,” it says. “Many of our clients are foreign, including companies based in Canada, France, Germany, England, Japan and Australia. We also assist U.S. clients with activities in numerous foreign countries.”
There is a bright side to the top state-level overseer of the oil and gas industry now working on behalf of that industry, at least in the eyes of one fracking opponent.
“The positive piece on this is that hopefully we’ll get someone in there that isn’t biased,” said Leonard.
Neslin could not be reached for comment Wednesday.