‘We know that groundwater is being protected in harmony with robust oil and gas operations’ — Tisha Schuller (COGA)

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Bobby Magill (Fort Collins Coloradoan) was in Denver for the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission setback and groundwater testing hearings yesterday. Here’s a report. Here’s an excerpt:

The state should require groundwater testing within a half mile of an oil well regardless of the presence of a water well, Carol Webb, city regulatory and government affairs manager, told the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission on Wednesday. Webb said Fort Collins wants the state to require groundwater be tested at least every several years after drilling to ensure public health and safety is protected.

Wednesday’s hearings addressed the proposed groundwater testing rules and updates to regulations that determine how far a well can be drilled from a home and a school. Those distances, called “setbacks,” are being revised to require a proposed minimum 350-foot distance between a new well and a building without a public hearing being held on the drilling proposal.

The COGCC receives more complaints from the public about groundwater contamination than about any other oil and gas-related issue, [Colorado chief oil regulator Matt Lepore] said. Most related groundwater contamination reported to the state involves production facilities, such as oil tanks and pits, he said. Oil and gas wells are responsible for relatively few cases of groundwater contamination, he said.

Environmentalists worry oil and gas hydraulic fracturing contaminates groundwater. The new rules would allow the industry to prove its claims that such drilling doesn’t impact groundwater, said James Milne, COGCC environmental manager…

Water well testing merely provides “peace of mind” and little more, [Weld County Attorney Bruce Barker] said, urging testing be done only for those who are concerned about contamination…

The Colorado Oil and Gas Association promoted its voluntary groundwater sampling program as an alternative to the mandatory one the state is proposing. “We know that groundwater is being protected in harmony with robust oil and gas operations,” said COGA CEO Tisha Schuller, adding that data show energy development is not harming the groundwater.

Mr. Magill live-tweeted the meeting at hash tag #cogcc

More coverage of yesterday’s hearing from Cathy Proctor writing for the Denver Business Journal. From the article:

…Shell Oil joined with the Environmental Defense Fund to jointly propose a statewide testing program, as an alternative to the COGCC’s proposal, that was acceptable to the major oil company and the environmental advocacy group.
The commission is expected to take up the testing issue at hearings scheduled for Dec. 10-11. The commission also will hold hearings at that time on what should be the appropriate setback distance between oil and gas wells and homes, schools and other buildings…

The COGCC’s proposal for a statewide water quality testing program includes taking two water-quality samples within a mile of a wellsite before a well is drilled, up to 18 months after it’s completed and within five years of the well’s completion. More tests would be required if the initial results turn up changes in water quality. Currently, the state requires water-quality tests be done in the San Juan Basin in southwestern Colorado, and in the Greater Wattenberg area in parts of Weld, Broomfield and Boulder counties. Wednesday, several representatives of local government suggested the state’s rule needed to be strengthened by adding testing more locations, and running more tests after the well is drilled. But representatives of Garfield and Weld counties, where companies have drilled thousands of wells, said their elected officials aren’t sure a statewide mandate is needed…

In a twist, Shell Oil, which is drilling in Routt County, joined with the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), an advocacy group, to jointly propose an alternative to the commission. Typically, when it comes to oil and gas regulatory issues in Colorado, the two groups have negotiated behind the scenes and been on opposite sides of the table in public. Krista Johnson, Shell’s government affairs manager for the Rocky Mountain region, told the commissioners that Shell publicly joined with EDF because the company wants to follow similar approaches to environmental issues wherever it operates around the world. Shell already complies with water testing requirements in other states where the company operates, she said…

Dan Grossman, the regional director of the EDF’s Rocky Mountain region, said the joint proposal was negotiated with energy companies and offers an effective way to identify potential problems and mitigate them.

More coverage from Kristen Wyatt writing for The Denver Post. Here’s and excerpt:

The commission meeting was charged from the start after eight environmental activists seeking entry were wrongly told the hearing was closed to the public. They eventually were allowed in but not with their signs decrying fracking as dangerous to the public.

One of the testifiers was Jonnie Westerop, who handed commissioners photos of a playground with wells visible in the background. “Do you think the citizens are just going to sit back and say that’s fine? … What are we doing to our state? Beautiful Colorado?” she asked…

John Moser, who owns 100 oil and gas wells in northern Colorado, told commissioners that onerous regulations harm the entire state tax base. The Greeley well owner said after his testimony that Colorado must stick with its current regulatory scheme.

Commissioners asked few questions during the public testimony. They got a lengthy briefing on proposed new groundwater testing rules, which commission director Matt Lepore said would be the first in the nation to require groundwater sampling at all new drilling locations.

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

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