HomeNews Oil and Gas Commission voting on new protections
Oil and Gas Commission voting on new protections
Written by Seth Mensing
Wednesday, 06 February 2013
County retains own gas operation inspector
While falling short of what some people were hoping to see in new state rules aimed at providing better protections from the impacts of natural gas drilling on homes and groundwater, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) in January gave preliminary approval to what it calls “Groundbreaking oil and gas rules.” A final hearing on the rules will be held February 11.
“Technologies and patterns of oil and gas development are rapidly changing across our state and the public expects our rules to keep up,” COGCC commissioner Andy Spielman said. Whether the new rules keep up is still a question for some. New rules related to the protection of groundwater adopted by the commission would require drilling operators to take water samples before and after drilling is complete, which is unique among most states, according to the commission. Only two other states have mandatory groundwater testing programs in place and no other state in the country requires operators to take post-drilling water samples. “The Commission has long amassed considerable data on water wells adjacent to oil and gas wells, and the agency’s database already contains well over 6,000 such samples—a data set that will grow substantially with the new rule,” the commission said in a statement. “In the fall, the Commission took another important step by moving its water quality database on-line so that the public can review the same sampling data accessed by Commission regulators.” The results of that voluntary water sample testing are available at frackfocus.org. The second set of rules to get preliminary approval from the COGCC would have less impact on rural areas but would require operators to engage with the property owners and come up with enhanced mitigation measures when working on gas development within 1,000 feet of residences. Gas development will be prohibited completely within 1,000 feet of schools, nursing homes and hospitals unless operators are granted special permission by the COGCC. Rural areas will get a greater setback if the rules are adopted unchanged. According to the COGCC, the new rules revised setback requirements of 150 feet in rural areas and 350 feet in urban areas, and a 500-foot setback from residences statewide. “These proposed rules reinforce Colorado’s role as a national pacesetter in the comprehensive and progressive regulation of oil and gas exploration and production,” COGCC director Matt Lepore said. “We worked earnestly with many stakeholders to develop a groundwater rule that provides strong protections and that we believe strikes the right balance among many interested parties.” One of those stakeholders was Paonia-based Citizens for a Healthy Community, which signed on as a party to the rulemaking process and took its message of protecting the water and air in the North Fork Valley to Denver over the year-long process. Crested Butte-based High Country Citizens’ Alliance was involved in the process by proxy. “The rule-making process was a wasted opportunity. I would characterize it as a baby step in the right direction,” CHC director Jim Ramey said. “There were positive steps forward, but disappointing when you look at the available public health science out there and the concerns about impacts to human health from gas drilling.” Ramey added that the COGCC is considering a change before the final rule is adopted that would make the 500-foot setback a requirement only if the local government asked for it. For parts of the North Fork, the local government with jurisdiction would be Gunnison County. And Gunnison County has a new presence on the ground in the North Fork, announcing the retention of a contractor to inspect oil and gas operations on behalf of the county and under the authority of the state. An intergovernmental agreement signed by the county and COGCC last year would allow the county to coordinate with the COGCC’s northwest field inspection supervisor to provide oversight of operations inside the county. The county’s inspection contractor, Carl Colby, has “extensive oil and gas experience,” according to the COGCC and has already completed two training programs before taking on his new role. Further training will take place over the next year. According to the COGCC, “In addition to the oil and gas work, Mr. Colby has completed several reclamation projects for the Department of Reclamation, Mining and Safety.” The COGCC will make a final vote on the new rules related to setbacks after a hearing February 11 in Denver.