The COGCC re-opens setback and water quality rules

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From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):

The timetable for the rulemaking process ideally would conclude in early January in advance of the beginning of the new legislative session, Matt Lepore, director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, said Monday during a hearing in Steamboat Springs.

COGCC member Mike King, who also is the executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, said he would support going forward with the rulemaking process…

He fended off any notion that the state’s recent lawsuit filed against the city of Longmont over its oil and gas regulations signals that the governor’s office is not looking out for the interests of local communities…

The COGCC met before more than 60 people in a meeting room at the Routt County Justice Center and listened to comments from about 20 people, including 15 Routt County residents. The first nine to speak either were members of the local Citizens Supporting Property Rights group or sympathized with the view that Routt County’s Board of Commissioners is obstructing their right to develop the subsurface mineral rights they own…

Lepore told the oil and gas commissioners that the timetable for the rulemaking process requires a statewide public notice to be published by Oct. 15 to allow the rules to be taken up during a regularly schedule commission meeting Nov. 15. He anticipated an additional special meeting in December followed by a vote on whether to adopt any new rules Jan. 3.

More coverage from Bruce Finley writing for The Denver Post. Here’s an excerpt:

Commissioner DeAnn Craig, an industry consultant, called for weighing costs and benefits before any change is made. “What are we trying to achieve by changing the setback rules?” Craig asked during a commission meeting held in Steamboat Springs. “What risks are we trying to mitigate?”

Requiring greater setbacks of wells from buildings could prevent extraction of oil, she said. “If there’s a loss of value to the owner of these resources, will there be a reduction in taxes?” she asked…

The decision reflects widening public opposition and efforts by more than a dozen municipalities and counties to impose local restrictions as oil and gas drilling moves closer to urban communities. State officials are concerned that unless state rules get tougher, a patchwork of local government rules will create uncertainty and delay.

A proposal floated by COGCC staffers, after 11 sessions with stakeholders, addresses setbacks and calls for mandatory monitoring of groundwater. The proposal doesn’t increase existing setback distances, which allow wells as close as 150 feet from buildings in rural areas and 350 feet in high-density areas. However, the proposal would require more consultation with residents who might be affected by doubling the period for public comment to 40 days for wells proposed within 700 feet of buildings. It also would require companies to mitigate noise, dust, odor, traffic and industrial lighting.

More coverage from Cathy Proctor writing for the Denver Business Journal. From the article:

The state already requires groundwater tests around drilling sites in parts of La Plata and Weld counties. The Colorado Oil & Gas Association, which represents the industry, promotes a voluntary statewide program that the association says covers about 93 percent of the wells drilled across the state. The COGCC is proposing to expand its mandatory program statewide.

The COGCC’s setback proposal increases the minimum possible distance between a well and a building to 350 feet, from 150 feet, unless all landowners within the 350-foot radius give their written consent to the location. It also adds more requirements for operations.

Meanwhile Governor Hickenlooper is standing fast in the State’s lawsuit against the City of Longmont over their oil and gas regulations. Here’s a report from Scott Rochat writing for the Longmont Times-Call via the Boulder Daily Camera. Here’s an excerpt:

Gov. John Hickenlooper said that Longmont would do better to address its oil and gas concerns through agreements instead of regulation, in a return letter this week to 82 town, city and county officials that included Mayor Dennis Coombs.

The 82 had written Hickenlooper last week as a show of support for Longmont, which has been sued by the state over the city’s new oil and gas rules. State officials object to eight different aspects of the regulations, including a restriction on drilling in residential zones…

But Hickenlooper, in a letter dated Wednesday and released Thursday, said the state already had sufficiently strict regulation and that it preferred to work directly with communities, or have them work with the oil and gas companies, to address any local concerns.

“To be clear at the outset, suing Longmont was last — and not a first — resort for our administration,” Hickenlooper said. “This decision was only made after attempts to resolve the State’s concerns were unsuccessful.”

On the same day Longmont adopted its new regulations, it also announced an agreement with the area’s largest drilling company, TOP Operating. In that agreement, TOP agreed to observe several restrictions citywide, including mandatory water quality monitoring and a 750-foot separation, or “setback,” between their wells and any buildings.

Hickenlooper said he was pleased to see the agreement, but that the city’s determination to “harden jurisdictional lines” by adopting its new rules made a legal response necessary.

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

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