The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission green lights new ‘toughest in nation’ hydraulic fracturing disclosure rule

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From Alan Prendergast writing for Westword:

“We wanted to find the right balance,” [Governor Hickenlooper] explained, while predicting that the arrangement would allow companies to develop “greener, cutting-edge fracking fluids.”

Yet disclosure of what’s in the fracking brew probably won’t allay public concerns about the process, Governor Good Gas acknowledged. Fracking requires astonishing amounts of water, and the scale of projected drilling in Colorado and other western states is staggering. Disclosure needs to be coupled with exacting standards for how wells are drilled and operated, or Colorado could end up with a scenario similar to the suspected water contamination reported in Pavilion, Wyoming, last week, which has been blamed on shallow wells and inadequate casing.

“As drilling goes to where it’s never been before, we’re going to hear concerns,” Hickenlooper said. “But I have said all along that our groundwater is so far from [the formations being fracked] that there’s almost no possibility that we’re going to see contamination from fracking.”

Flanked by environmental and consumer advocates and gas industry execs, the governor announced the new fracking era in front of the giant John Fielder photograph of Lost Dollar Ranch in his office. Time will tell if the state can have its gas boom and keep its gorgeous scenery, too.

More on the reaction to the new rules from Cathy Proctor writing for the Denver Business Journal. From the article:

U.S. Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.): “These new rules are a strong step forward for Colorado and our local communities. It’s vital that the industry does everything possible to show the public in a transparent way that hydraulic fracking is being done in a safe manner. It’s also important that the state continues to provide strong oversight and require a transparent process. I’ve always said that one well contaminated or one person made sick is one too many.”[…]

Tisha Schuller, President & CEO of the Colorado Oil & Gas Association: “The Commission’s unanimous support for the new hydraulic fracturing disclosure rule is great news for Colorado. The Hickenlooper Administration, environmental groups, and the oil and gas industry have agreed upon a rule of which all Coloradoans can be proud.”[…]

Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund advocacy group: “The public expects and deserves full transparency from the oil and gas industry. Today, Colorado has taken a critical step toward building the public trust.”[…]

Mike Chiropolos, Boulder-based Western Resource Advocates’ lands program director: “The disclosure compromise is a model for future collaborative efforts where industry concerns are balanced against the need to protect Colorado’s water as drilling expands across the state. This is an important step in creating the necessary protections for Colorado families, but there is more work to be done.”

More coverage from Nick Snow writing for the Oil and Gas Journal. From the article:

Colorado adopted hydraulic fracturing fluid ingredient regulations, effective Apr. 1, requiring disclosure of all chemicals and establishing ways to protect proprietary information. The rules drew praise from both oil and gas industry and environmental organizations…

Neslin said while disclosing frac fluid ingredients is important to increased transparency and better public confidence, the commission has other tools that provide more direct influence, notably casing and cementing requirements, and regulations for handling fluids and wastewater at the surface. He said the final regulations reflected an effective collaborative process. Leaders of both oil and gas and environmental groups quickly expressed their approval…

Environmental Defense Fund Pres. Fred Krupp said Colorado’s new regulations build on the experience of Wyoming, Arkansas, Texas, and Montana. Krupp believes Colorado’s regulations make important strides in requiring disclosures in ways that are both useful and user-friendly. “Moving to a searchable database format will allow land owners, neighbors, regulators, and policymakers to focus their questions and their research about hydraulic fracturing operations,” he said. “This is a big step forward, and possibly Colorado’s most important contribution to disclosure efforts in states across the nation.”

More coverage from David O. Williams writing for the Colorado Independent. From the article:

[Western Resource Advocates] now wants the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) to implement recommendations made in October by a group called the State Review of Oil & Natural Gas Environmental Regulations (STRONGER) suggesting minimum surface casing depths for oil and gas wells that are fracked.

It’s been suggested that the failure to properly case and cement natural gas wells to depths below the groundwater aquifer may have been to blame in Pavillion, Wyo., where a report last week by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) linked fracking chemicals to well-water contamination.

“[STRONGER] recommends that the COGCC work with stakeholders to review how available information is used to determine minimum surface casing depths and how those depths assure that casing and cementing procedures are adequate to protect fresh groundwater,” the October STRONGER report reads.

COGCC director David Neslin said on Tuesday that fracking chemical “disclosure is not our first line of environmental defense. It’s important for transparency, it’s important to build public confidence, but our first line of environmental defense is the integrity of the wellbore. It’s the work that our engineers and environmental staff do in reviewing the permit applications.”

Neslin has long said that disclosure won’t stop spills caused by bad cement jobs of wellbores, pipeline problems or leaks from holding ponds that store fracking and other fluids. On Tuesday he said another line of environmental defense is “groundwater sampling, baseline sampling that we require our operators to do, and the prompt response that our field inspectors make when complaints or allegations of impact arise.”

WRA, however, would like to see another rulemaking on both the STRONGER recommendations and “a mandatory program for baseline testing, monitoring and tracers to protect our water quality.”

“Baseline testing can help eliminate the he said, she said arguments over contamination so that we can focus on keeping people safe,” WRA’s Chiropolos said. “One sick person is one too many. The [COGCC] should continue to be proactive in 2012 in order to protect Colorado families and our water.”[…]

“Colorado citizens are justifiably worried about the practice of fracking and deserve full confidence that the state is protecting the quality of their air, water and soil,” said Josh Joswick, energy issues organizer of the San Juan Citizens Alliance. Joswick was a La Plata County commissioner when local drilling rules were implemented in that gas-rich area of the state.

Increased drilling activity on the Front Range from Colorado Springs all the way north of Denver to the Wyoming state line will occur where far more Coloradans live than on the sparsely populated Western Slope. “This [disclosure] compromise means there is no free pass for drilling firms,” state Rep. Deb Gardner, D-Longmont, said in a release. “There is now a greater degree of checks and balances.”

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

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