From The Denver Post (Judith Kohler):
Environmental and community organizations want the state to halt approval of oil and gas drilling permits until all new rules are written in the wake of more stringent regulations passed by the legislature in this year’s session.
Approving all the rules is expected to take at least a year, given the complexity of the new law. A new Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission will need to be seated; new regulations to protect public health, safety and the environment will be developed; and new bond and fee rates to ensure cleanup of well sites will be set.
When the bill was moving through the legislature, the sponsors repeatedly disputed opponents’ arguments that Senate Bill 19-181 would lead to a moratorium on new oil and gas drilling.
But for several at a hearing Wednesday on the first set of rules being considered, the right thing to do is to halt approval of all permits until new regulations putting health and safety first are adopted…
Environmental and community activists who think no oil and gas permits should be approved until the new regulations take effect said so in letters sent Monday to Gov. Jared Polis, the COGCC and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment…
Jeff Robbins, executive director of the oil and gas commission, said Tuesday that his staff is moving forward as directed by the legislation. The staff is expected to release final criteria this week that will be used to consider permit applications while the new regulations are being developed.
The legislation directed the staff to draft criteria to provide additional review of permit applications to make sure new development meets the law’s objective of protecting public health and safety, the environment and wildlife, Robbins said.
The new law also clarifies that cities and counties can use their planning and land-use authority to regulate oil and gas in their borders. The guidelines, which the staff took public comments on, also address that change.
The COGCC staff has paused approval of new permits to write those guidelines and appoint an interim commission.
“Some permits may be approved and some may not given the heightened scrutiny and changes in progress. That course of action is consistent with SB 181,” Sen. Mike Foote, D-Lafayaette, one of the bill’s co-sponsors, said in an email.
Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder, a main sponsor of the bill, said the COGCC staff is following the process intended by the legislation.
“I have full faith in the director and the commission and the individuals there to ensure that they’re moving in a way that honors the spirit of the bill,” Fenberg said. “If they don’t, we will step in if we need to, not to punish anyone but to make sure our intentions are clear.”
The criteria the staff will use to determine if applications need more scrutiny include whether proposed wells are within certain distances from schools, homes or parks; are in a municipality; or if local governments want more input.
There are about 6,500 permit applications waiting in the queue. From January until the bill came law, the COGCC approved permits for 88 well locations and more than 800 associated wells.
The proposed change the COGCC took public comments on Wednesday deals with allowing administrative law judges to consider disputes and some administrative issues now handled by the commission. Robbins said the change is intended to give the commission more time to consider rules and policies.