Oil and Gas Commission alters public health proposals

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— The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission made "substantial" changes to proposed public health regulations for energy companies this week, according to Department of Natural Resources officials.

The Oil and Gas Commission approved provisional changes to about 50 different proposed public health regulations, all by unanimous or near-unanimous votes.

None of this week's changes are set in stone. Officials expect to reach a final decision on all proposed regulations Sept. 11.

The Oil and Gas Commission's decisions are part of a rulemaking process to balance energy development with considerations for the state's public health and wildlife.

Energy industry representatives, government officials and conservationists say the process - mandated by the Colorado Legislature in 2007 - could greatly change energy development across the state.

Moffat County will wait to see what happens with wildlife regulations before becoming too involved with the state, said Jeff Comstock, county Natural Resources Department director.

"Moffat County's comments to the (Oil and Gas Commission) focused primarily on wildlife," he said. "We haven't had a complaint on the public health side of things as long as I've been here. We focused on what our citizens said they were most concerned about, which is, hands down, wildlife and socioeconomic issues."

The Oil and Gas Commission and its governing agency, the Department of Natural Resources, have worked on the regulations since late 2007.

"At the conclusion of the testimony phase this summer, several commissioners - not all the commissioners, but several - asked the staff to work with the parties to see if they could come to an agreement about some of the rules in a way that works for everyone involved and still achieve our objectives behind the rules," said David Neslin, acting Oil and Gas Commission director.

The provisional changes were a mix of tighter and lighter regulations, compared to the rules' original drafts.

One change that could be considered a lighter variation clarified "trade secret" rights for energy companies, which would allow them to withhold certain chemicals kept on Colorado sites from public record.

Some local governments across the state, such as the Summit County Commission, have expressed unease about certain chemicals being used in their jurisdictions.

Summit County commissioners went so far as to ban cyanide heap-leach mining, used to mine gold and other "hard rock" materials, because of concerns about the industrial use of cyanide.

Other state officials were concerned about energy company accidents, such as a chemical spill into a water body.

Neslin said the proposed regulation's new language balances public health concerns with the state constitutional right to keep trade secret information out of public records.

"Some parties had requested this information be available," he said, "but under state law, trade secret information is protected."

Oil and Gas Commission and Department of Public Health and Environment officials will have access to all chemical records to preserve public health interests.

Local health care professionals also may have access to inventory records if they need to treat or diagnose a condition that could have resulted from chemical contamination. Physicians will have to sign a confidentiality agreement to obtain inventory records.

The Oil and Gas Commission took several other actions, including adding requirements and making it more difficult for energy companies to drill within 300 feet of a public drinking water site.

Neslin said the Oil and Gas Commission plans to hold similar deliberations on proposed wildlife regulations Sept. 9 to 11 in Denver, culminating with a final decision on all regulations Sept. 11.

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