Municipal and county officials above the Niobrara shale play are examining their roles in regulating oil and gas exploration and production

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From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

…elected officials are responding by considering drilling moratoriums and new local rules. Residents want good air, water and safety, Commerce City Councilman Rene Bullock said. “What are we going to do to start providing that?” Colorado’s State Land Board hit the brakes on a controversial metro-Denver drilling project after learning that ConocoPhillips is embroiled in a lawsuit for failing to pay the state $152 million for cleanup of leaky underground gas tanks.

As energy companies prepare to tap the vast Niobrara shale formation, this reticence reflects widening anxiety and an uneasy standoff with state regulators as residents question Colorado’s ability to combine environment stewardship with large-scale industrial development.

State regulators, who simultaneously are charged with encouraging oil and gas development, oppose local rules for protecting air, water and serenity. “The state has the experience and the infrastructure to effectively and responsibly regulate oil and gas development,” Colorado Department of Natural Resources spokesman Todd Hartman said. “A healthy industry is important to our state’s economy, and a mosaic of regulatory approaches across cities and counties is not conducive to clear and predictable rules that mark efficient and effective government.”

Air pollution is a major concern. Here’s a report about past air pollution from Mark Jaffe writing for The Denver Post. From the article:

The study based on air sampling from a tower north of Denver estimated wells in the Denver-Julesberg Basin were losing about 4 percent of their methane emissions — twice as high as earlier estimates. The findings raise questions about emissions industrywide, said Greg Frost, a co-author of the study and a scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Colorado-Boulder…

But since the sampling for the study was done in 2008, a number of steps have been taken to address emissions, state air officials and industry executives said. A mixture of venting emissions, leaks and flashing — fumes that escape as the pressure on the liquid portion of the gas drops — contributed to the problem, the researchers said. “The methane was detected in the atmosphere. The challenge was to understand what happens at each well site,” Frost said. In the last four years Colorado has adopted new drilling rules and air-emission restrictions that deal with many pollution issues, said Will Allison, director of the state Air Pollution Control Division.

More coverage from Scott Rochat writing for the Longmont Times-Call. From the article:

The public and three of the city’s advisory boards strongly urged tougher regulation — and a longer moratorium — of oil and gas drilling in Longmont. The support came during Tuesday night’s open house and joint board meeting at the civic center. More than 90 people showed up to have their say, either at the microphone or by showing with stickers which subjects they most strongly backed. Huge collections of stickers on poster boards told the tale: Keep drilling operations a half mile from homes? Yes. Require closed-loop systems? Yes. Toughen regulations even if they may be challenged or pre-empted by the state? Yes, yes, yes.

“I’m really concerned abut the long-term effects on the water supply,” said resident Edna Loehman. “I don’t think they should be doing it in urban areas.”[…]

The 14 members of the city’s water board, parks board, and environmental affairs board didn’t always go as far as the audience, but still wanted more than the city had.

In electronic voting, 86 percent of the advisory board members said they’d support tighter requirements even in areas the state had declared pre-empted; about three-quarters said they’d support either a 500 foot or a 1,000 foot setback. The current setback is 350 feet.

“It seems we have more control over where a gas station goes in town than things like this,” said Douglas Ward of the Board of Environmental Affairs.

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

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