COGCC to consider groundbreaking new oil and gas rules — Todd Hartman


Here’s the release from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (Todd Hartman):

State oil and gas regulators today [December 31, 2012] completed groundbreaking proposals for groundwater protection and the reduction of drilling impacts near homes for consideration next week before the nine-member Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

The draft rules follow months of stakeholder meetings and public participation, including nearly a year of presentations and comment on the issue of how best to balance energy production with the need to minimize impacts on residences from nearby oil and gas development.

The two sets of rules were developed with extensive input from local governments, farmers and ranchers, the environmental community, homeowners, the energy industry, homebuilders, mineral owners, environmental health specialists and business leaders. COGCC staff has spent much of 2012 engaging these stakeholders in order to develop rules that protect the public health and environment while providing the flexibility needed to allow for production of energy that all Coloradans depend upon in everyday life, creates and sustains thousands of jobs and is critical to the state’s economy.

“These proposed rules reinforce Colorado’s role as a national pacesetter in the comprehensive and progressive regulation of oil and gas exploration and production,” said Matt Lepore, director of the COGCC, the state’s regulatory agency that staffs the Governor-appointed Commission. “These proposals contain mitigation standards unprecedented nationally and mark yet another step forward in fashioning a model regulatory framework that strikes a balance that’s right for Colorado.”

“At the same time, we understand that our draft rules will leave no one set of interests completely satisfied, and provide various targets for those who want to see it done differently,” Lepore said. “And yet, we expect most everyone who participated will see elements and concepts in these proposals that they helped initiate and push forward.”

Components of the proposals include:

  • The new rules will require operators to meet enhanced mitigation, notice and outreach requirements when drilling near residences beginning at 1,000 feet. Setbacks in previous rules of 350 feet (urban) and 150 feet (rural) will now be 500 feet statewide.
  • New measures to limit impacts may include pit-less drilling, steel berms and underground liners, strict dust and lighting controls and capture of gasses to reduce odors and emissions.
  • Operators must engage in expanded notice and outreach efforts with nearby residents and conduct additional engagement with local governments about proposed operations.
  • Operators must conduct sampling of water wells near drilling sites both before and after drilling activities to ensure drinking water aquifers are protected. This would make Colorado the only state to require sampling both pre- and post-drilling.
  • Operators cannot operate within 1,000 feet of buildings housing larger numbers of people, such as schools, nursing homes and hospitals without a hearing before the Commission.
  • These proposals will be considered during public hearings scheduled for January 7, 8 and 9 before the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. The Commission can modify the proposal, or pursue other options, based on testimony during this hearing, and in previous hearings that have taken place on these matters in recent weeks.

    The upcoming hearings will take place at the Sheraton Denver Downtown Hotel, 1550 Court Place, beginning at 9 a.m. each day. The Commission includes representatives from across Colorado. Seats are filled by members with expertise in environmental and wildlife protection, agriculture, soil conservation, oil and gas production and regulatory oversight.

    From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Bobby Magill):

    The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission on Monday unveiled its proposal for new oil and gas drilling rules that would mandate expanded setbacks and groundwater testing around new oil and gas wells. The commission will deliberate the rules during a three-day hearing Jan. 7-9 in Denver…

    The proposed rules will not affect how closely homes can be built to existing oil and gas wells.

    In a statement, COGCC director Matt Lepore said the rules make Colorado a “pacesetter” for oil and gas regulation, calling the rules “unprecedented nationally.”[…]

    The Colorado Oil and Gas Association has long opposed increased setbacks. Last week, the group issued a statement opposing a 1,000 foot setback, which did not end up in the proposed rules.

    The group claims new setbacks will cause greater environmental and economic damage to the region by pushing new oil and gas wells into undeveloped agricultural and open space lands.

    COGA’s statement said increased setbacks will increase the cost of accessing oil and gas resources while reducing the amount of land available for farming, hurting farmers’ economic viability in coming years.

    Northern Colorado environmental groups say the proposed rules don’t go far enough. Save the Poudre’s Gary Wockner, speaking for Clean Water Action and the Sierra Club, called the 500 foot setback rule “a farce,” and that oil and gas wells should be drilled no closer to buildings than 2,000 feet.

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Duffy Hayes):

    As in 2009, when Colorado put in place the nation’s strictest rules regulating oil and gas extraction, the state appears poised to raise the regulatory bar once again with new, more-stringent rules. The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission — the state’s regulatory authority over energy development — on Monday released new draft rules that will be the focus of public hearings next week in Denver.

    Among the proposed regulations: water sampling of wells before and after drilling activities, setbacks extended to 500 feet, exclusion from areas within 1,000 feet of schools and hospitals, and new community outreach requirements that drilling companies will be compelled to follow.

    Enhanced mitigation by operators could be required as well. Those mitigation requirements were called “unprecedented nationally” and “mark yet another step forward in fashioning a model regulatory framework that strikes a balance that’s right for Colorado,” said COGCC director Matt Lepore in a press release.

    Colorado in 2009 adopted groundbreaking regulatory rules, then the strictest in the nation. Since then, a number of states have enacted oil and gas rules that have exceeded Colorado’s in terms of strict controls. The new proposals were again called groundbreaking by the COGCC in terms of groundwater protection and the reduction of drilling impacts near people.

    Last year, the COGCC agreed to re-open the details of the state’s regulatory framework, and held months of stakeholder meetings and presentations on the topic. The draft rules released Monday are the result of that process, COGCC said.

    New setback requirements are central to the new proposed rules. Previous rules of 350 feet in urban areas and 150 feet in rural places would be extended to 500 feet. Operators will have to meet enhanced requirements for mitigation, notice and outreach to residents within 1,000 feet of drilling,as well. Also, drilling would be excluded from areas within 1,000 feet of buildings that house large numbers of people — such as schools, hospitals and nursing homes.

    Further, Colorado would become the only state to require water testing both pre- and post-drilling, according to the proposed rules.

    COGCC also said new measures “may include” strict dust and lighting controls, capture of gases, pit-less drilling, steel berms or underground liners.

    The nine-member COGCC will hold public meetings on the new rules over three days, Jan. 7–9. The meetings will be held at the Sheraton Denver Downtown Hotel, beginning at 9 a.m. each day. The commission said that during those hearings, the group can modify the proposal, or even pursue other options, based on the testimony.

    From the Longmont Times-Call (Scott Rochat) via the Boulder Daily Camera:

    The hearings will begin at 9 a.m. Jan 7, 8 and 9 in the Sheraton Denver Downtown Hotel, 1550 Court Place…

    The commission can adopt, alter or reject the proposed changes.

    The discussion comes in the midst of a COGCC lawsuit against the city of Longmont, which adopted tougher regulations of its own. The city has maintained that its new rules are part of its traditional land use and zoning powers; the commission argued that Longmont was trespassing on the state’s authority to regulate oil and gas. Longmont’s rules include a restriction on any drilling in residential zones, and allow the city to require water-quality monitoring until five years after the well is abandoned. A contract between the city and TOP Operating, the main drilling company in the area, requires a 750-foot setback between well sites and occupied buildings.

    More oil and gas coverage here and here.

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