The COGCC is debating new rules for water quality and setbacks

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From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

“This is our attempt to get more buy-in, more acceptability for these activities where they haven’t happened yet,” said Mike King, state director of natural resources, also serving on the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

No agreement had been reached as principals conferred behind closed doors Monday evening. Experts testifying on groundwater acknowledged most contamination is caused by surface spills around storage tanks and during initial drilling — not from deep well bores during fracking…

Industry leaders anticipated tweaks. “Folks realize there’s going to be a testing program,” Colorado Petroleum Association president Stan Dempsey said. “It has to be done the right way. If the regulatory situation isn’t as certain in Colorado as in another state, (company) investment dollars could flow to another part of the country or another part of the world.”
COGCC proposes requiring companies to provide no more than four water samples before drilling and two after drilling as a way to measure impact. There would be an exemption for companies operating in a broad area north of Denver.
A proposal by the Environmental Defense Fund and Shell would require tests within a half-mile radius of production wells. It would require baseline sampling from one well up-slope from production wells and two down-slope locations. It also would let COGCC’s director waive some tests if it made scientific sense.

From the Denver Business Journal (Cathy Proctor):

The Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission in January will formally consider proposals to expand the state’s rules on groundwater testing before and after a well is drilled, the commissioners decided late Monday. The decision came after hours of public testimony on various proposals under consideration…

[Aurora Democratic Sen. Morgan Carroll] on Dec. 7 started work on her proposed Fracking Safety Act of 2013 by filing the bill title with legislative staff, required steps before a bill is introduced during the legislative session. Carroll, in a statement, said her proposal would:

• Establish a 2,000-foot setback between drilling rigs and homes, schools, hospitals, radioactive sources, explosives and Superfund sites unless the relevant local government approved a narrower distance.
• Require water-quality testing before and after drilling.
• Offer a prioritized permit processing for companies that use “green completion standards.”

“I am hopeful the current rulemaking that has commenced (at the COGCC) on setbacks and groundwater monitoring will result in similar strong public health and safety protections,” Carroll said in her announcement. “If they do not, I remain committed to working to ensure these critical issues are resolved in a way that best protects the health of our children, families and our environment.”[...]

… in what’s known as the Greater Wattenberg area, an active oil and natural gas basin north of Denver — where local officials and residents have raised concerns about the safety of oil and gas operations — the state would require up to four samples be taken in every square mile.

From the Associated Press via The Pueblo Chieftain:

Colorado gas-and-oil regulators are debating new rules for water quality and drilling near homes, which could determine whether state lawmakers propose stepping in to set their own rules.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is mulling a new rule to require water-quality testing before and after a well is drilled and hydraulically fractured.

The Durango Herald reported Tuesday that it will not make a final decision on water quality testing until January at the earliest. Commissioner DeAnn Craig, a petroleum engineer, said the state’s existing rules on well construction are the best defense against groundwater contamination. Craig said she was concerned the state was asking the gas industry to pay for water sampling that should be the responsibility of landowners or county governments. The water tests would cost $4 million to $6 million “for basically public service because we’ve established with the new rules the possibility of contamination is almost zero,” Craig said.

The commission was debating a separate rule change Tuesday about buffer zones between wells and houses. That rule would require consultation with building owners within 1,000 feet of a proposed well.

State Sen. Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, told the newspaper that she has filed a bill to ban new wells within 2,000 feet of homes and schools, unless the local government approves. Carroll’s bill also would require water-quality tests before and after a well is drilled. Carroll said she hoped the COGCC would pass a good set of rules this week. “If they do not, I remain committed to working to ensure these critical issues are resolved in a way that best protects the health of our children, families and our environment,” she said in a prepared statement.

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission proposed a rule change to require buffers of 350 feet between wells and occupied buildings statewide — same as the existing rule for high-density areas.
Environment advocates and residents urged at least 1,000 feet.

“Even a 1,000-foot setback would fail to protect public health,” said Jim Ramey, director of Citizens for a Healthy Community in the Western Slope town of Hotchkiss. “People of Colorado need the COGCC to hold industry to a higher standard and to favor protecting citizens over protecting profits.”

Western Resource Advocates attorney Mike Chiropolos told commissioners “people are talking about migraine headaches, bloody ears” and gastrointestinal ailments that they link to oil and gas drilling. “We need to update the rules.”

But Colorado Association of Homebuilders attorney Randall Feuerstein argued that any mandatory buffers could lead to unconstitutional “takings” of property. Cattlemen, likewise, contend required buffers could infringe on their use of land.

Some industry leaders, too, oppose any buffers. “There’s no basis or need for these rules,” Colorado Petroleum Association attorney Jep Seman said.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Association, however, supports the 350-foot proposal — while challenging an accompanying tweak to require that companies give advance notice of drilling to residents living within 1,000 feet.

State regulators also face gaps not fully explored between what various factions would accept as rules for better communication by companies when drilling, consent of neighbors before homeowners could allow drilling, and mitigation of harm that ranges from trucks churning up dust to bright lights, odor and noise.

The overall result after two all-day hearings was that a consensus on tougher state rules — to ease intensifying public concern — remained elusive…

Conservation Colorado issued a statement warning Gov. John Hickenlooper that “the time for action is now,” saying that “with increased drilling activity, our quality of life, clean air and water and public health all hang in the balance with this rulemaking.”

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

State regulators have revised their earlier proposal for groundwater testing near oil and gas drilling by recommending that more sites be tested around a well pad.

However, Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission staff have dropped a proposal that the testing also be required for other facilities separate from well pads, such as treatment and processing facilities and tanks not on pads. They also are proposing separate testing rules for the Wattenberg oil and gas field, centered in Weld County.

The commission spent a full day Monday taking testimony as it prepares to deliberate on the testing proposal, something it now hopes to do Jan. 7.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Association has been encouraging voluntary testing before and after drilling by its member companies, and it now occurs in the case of most wells being drilled. The commission is considering making Colorado the first state to mandate such testing, and much of the debate has centered on how many test sites should be required for each well drilled.

Commission staff initially recommended requiring sampling of two groundwater or spring sites within a mile of a well pad, preferably with one being upgradient and the other downgradient of the pad. It’s now proposing requiring testing of up to four available water sources within a half mile.

Its revised proposal comes after the Environmental Defense Fund conservation group and Shell Oil Co. jointly proposed requiring testing of all such sites within that distance. Its proposed four-site cap, however, comes in response to concerns from others in the industry about the costs involved in such testing.

From The Durango Herald (Joe Hanel):

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is adopting the rule changes at a time when the gas-and-oil wars have moved beyond their traditional rural battleground and into the Front Range suburbs, where many residents have rebelled against industrial operations near their homes.

The COGCC is considering a rule pushed by Gov. John Hickenlooper to require water-quality testing before and after a well is drilled and hydraulically fractured. Hickenlooper contends fracking does not contaminate groundwater, and he wants to pass the new rule to prove to Coloradans that the process is safe…

[Commissioner DeAnn Craig] said she was concerned the state was asking the gas industry to pay for water sampling that should be the responsibility of landowners or county governments. The water tests would cost $4 million to $6 million “for basically public service because we’ve established with the new rules the possibility of contamination is almost zero,” Craig said.

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Bobby Magill):

The point of testing is to establish how pure the groundwater is before drilling and fracking occurs so regulators can determine how much pollution new oil and gas wells cause.

Since they were first proposed, rules have been loosened to apply only to oil and gas wells, not crude oil tank batteries and other installations as originally envisioned.

Different rules would apply to new oil and gas wells in the “Greater Wattenberg Area,” a wide swath of heavily-drilled land sweeping northeast from Northglenn to Eaton, including Greeley but not Windsor, Fort Collins or any of Larimer County.

In the Wattenberg area, drillers wouldn’t have to take new samples of groundwater before drilling if the water had been tested within five years.

The industry is asking for less-stringent rules in much of Weld County because the Wattenberg Field has been drilled and fracked for decades in areas of dense housing and agriculture, making it difficult to know if new drilling could be faulted for groundwater pollution.

“Obtaining the true ‘baseline’ groundwater samples in the GWA is generally not possible,” said a Colorado Oil and Gas Association statement submitted to the COGCC prior to the hearing.

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

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