COGCC adopts new rules for groundwater testing, setbacks

New drilling rules touted as most comprehensive in the country

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“Gov. (John) Hickenlooper and his administration have failed in their responsibility to protect the public health, safety and environment of Coloradans. Coloradans have spoken loudly and clearly — they want to know the state is as concerned about their public health, air and water as it is about the oil and gas industry.”

Pete Maysmith, executive director of Denver-based Conservation Colorado, about recently approved Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission rules for groundwater monitoring and setbacks.

This week members of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission convened in Denver to adopt new drilling rules that have been touted as the most comprehensive in the country.

The three-day meeting concluded Wednesday with the COGCC granting preliminary approval of new guidelines for setbacks.

Setbacks refer to the distance between drilling rigs and occupied dwellings.

Existing setback standards of 150 feet in rural areas and 350 feet in urban areas were extended to a uniform 500 feet statewide, according to a COGCC news release.

The statewide standard doubles in cases where operators want to drill near buildings that house large numbers of people, such as schools, nursing homes and hospitals. Any operator trying to drill within the 1,000-foot buffer zone must first appear for a hearing before the COGCC.

Operators also must engage in expanded outreach efforts with nearby residents and take enhanced measures to minimize disruptions for all structures within 1,000 feet of a drilling rig, the release stated.

Earlier in the week the COGCC also passed new rules for groundwater monitoring, which require operators to sample up to four water wells within a half mile of a new oil and natural gas well prior to drilling, take two more samples each between six and 12 months of drilling, and conduct additional sampling five to six years after drilling has been completed.

Currently only two other states have mandatory groundwater testing programs in place, and no other state requires operators to take post-drilling samples, the release stated.

“These are tough and far-reaching new rules that significantly reduce the effects of drilling for those living or working nearby while at the same time protecting the rights of mineral owners,” said Matt Lepore, COGCC director in the release. “We believe these collectively amount to the strongest criteria for setbacks (and groundwater monitoring) in the country, will hold industry to a new standard and represent a national model.”

Though the new rules exceed those in neighboring states, not everyone was happy with the results from this week’s COGCC meeting.

Denver-based Conservation Colorado, which recently formed from the merger between the Colorado Environmental Coalition and Colorado Conservation Voters, wasted no time in condemning the new rules as weak and industry-friendly.

“After months of stakeholder meetings, a series of public hearings, a New Year’s Eve release of the proposed rules, and an attempt by industry to stymie the voices of Coloradans — Gov. (John) Hickenlooper and his administration have failed in their responsibility to protect the public health, safety, and environment of Coloradans,” said Conservation Colorado Executive Director Pete Maysmith in a news release. “Coloradans have spoken loudly and clearly — they want to know the state is as concerned about their public health, air and water as it is about the oil and gas industry.”

Despite the conservation community’s outrage, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, and the Colorado Department of Natural Resources both publicly supported the new COGCC rules.

In addition the two agencies announced Wednesday a partnership with Colorado State University to conduct a study of emissions from oil and natural gas activity along the northern Front Range.

The first phase of the study, scheduled to begin in July and run through June 2016, would provide information about characteristics of oil and natural gas emissions, including how they behave and how they travel.

CSU would then use the data to develop a health risk assessment as phase 2 of the study, slated to begin in January 2016.

Hickenlooper said he would seek $1.3 million from the COGCC’s Environment Response Fund to pay for the initial phase of the study, according to a joint CDPHE and Department of Natural Resources news release.

The ERF fund in comprised of revenues from oil and natural gas development.

The COGCC rules can be viewed online at www.cogcc.state.co.us.

Joe Moylan can be reached at 875-1794 or jmoylan@craigdailypress.com

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