The state agency responsible for regulating Colorado’s multibillion dollar oil and gas industry launched a three-month process on Monday that could ultimately mean expanded buffer zones zones between new wells and homes, as well as require groundwater testing before drilling.
In a 6 to 1 vote, the commissioners of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission signaled they are moving forward, with two public hearings on the process to be scheduled.
The details of the new proposal make it clear that it would not actually increase existing setback distances, which allow wells as close as 150 feet from buildings in rural areas and 350 feet in high-density areas. But it would require more consultation with residents who might be affected by doubling the period for public comment to 40 days for wells proposed within 700 feet of buildings. It also would require oil and gas companies to mitigate noise, traffic, dust, odor and industrial lighting.
Industry experts and even the COGCC said there is potential for tougher rules to ultimately hurt some energy companies. In the Denver Post, Commissioner DeAnn Craig, an industry consultant, said weighing costs and benefits should precede any potential changes to the regulations.
“What are we trying to achieve by changing the setback rules?” Craig asked during a commission meeting held in Steamboat Springs. “What risks are we trying to mitigate?” Requiring greater setbacks of wells from buildings could prevent extraction of oil, she said.
“If there’s a loss of value to the owner of these resources, will there be a reduction in taxes?” she asked.
COGCC’s new Executive Director, Matt LePore admitted,”There’s still a lot of detail to fill in.”
Colorado’s Department of Public Health and Environment sent a representative who said his agency supports considering new rules. The decision follows a plethora of local municipalities along the Front Range seeking to impose local restrictions as oil and gas drilling moves closer to their communities. The State has warned repeatedly that a patchwork of local government rules for regulating oil and gas development would create lots of uncertainity and delay for industry, not to mention the prospects of legal battles.
In recent weeks, COGCC staffers have floated a proposal for the new setbacks and water testing ideas during 11 sessions with stakeholders.
Industry leaders argued that revising state rules would complicate and delay COGCC’s statutorily required job of issuing permits. A new approach “is never going to satisfy everyone,” Colorado Petroleum Association representative Jep Seaman said.