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Via Biz West

Colorado residents and citizen groups who packed a Dec. 7 meeting to testify against draft rules put together by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission aimed at mitigating impacts of large oil and gas operations said again and again that the regulations don’t go far enough.

Meanwhile, Commission Director Matt LaPore insisted that the draft rules do what they are supposed to do: provide municipalities and residents with adequate protections against the impact of oil and gas operations while balancing the rights of surface and mineral owners. LePore also said that if the local government and the oil and gas operator have agreement on an operation, “it’s OK with us,” except in cases where, for example, “if a government was fine with 40 tanks near residents; we would want to have a long conversation about that.”

But even before the meeting began, many of those who joined the packed room and testified from written statements were unhappy with the draft regulations’ ability to mitigate impacts.

Carl Erickson of Weld Air Water compared the need for the commission’s draft rules to contain stronger language to the football/concussion issue. “It (the draft rules) doesn’t give significant protection to citizens. We need to get rules in place to prevent concussions,” he said.

Shawndra Barry, a Windsor dentist and the leader of the group Windsor Neighbors for Responsible Drilling, cited multiple examples in her neighborhood where the oil industry processes included a multitude of errors.

“There is no due diligence,” she said. They aren’t “trying to be a good neighbor.”

Her most recent example involved an issue where oil and gas surveyors trespassed on her property without fulfilling the necessary “nine line items of notification before entering a property,” she said. “I share this example to show the oil and gas industry that their rights do not supersede my rights. I recommend that the commission establish clearly defined rules, not tools.”

Her other examples involved drilling operators that had proposed setting up shop too close to schools or homes. The most notable one was in Windsor, where after citizens’ complaints, a proposed drilling site by Great Western Oil containing 28 wells and 45 tanks was relocated earlier this year from the Pace property west of Weld Country Road 13 to two different sites located in section 30, approximately one mile east of the Pace pad. While Barry’s detailed study of the initial site plan called out errors in the leasing agreements which helped promote the relocation, she said she doesn’t think this kind of analysis should be her job, or the job of any citizen.

“It is absurd to expect citizens to police oil and gas,” she said. “The best layer of protection from the state would be meaningful regulations.”

Location and the ability to exert some kind of regulatory control over where an oil or gas operation sets up shop was a common theme in the meeting. The commission created the draft rules in part based on recommendations from Gov. John Hickenlooper’s oil and gas task force, which met for about a year to come up with rulemaking to address local government collaboration with operators concerning locations for large-scale oil and gas facilities in urban mitigation areas.

But while the task force recommended that siting tools should be used to locate facilities away from residential areas when feasible, this recommendation didn’t make it into the commission’s draft rules. According to LaPore, the commission decided not to address setbacks because “we (already) have a siting tool now that requires multi-well sites to be located as far away as possible.”

Matt Sura, an attorney representing local governments in Boulder County who served on the task force, was especially critical of the commission’s decision in this area. Sura said that if the draft is passed as it is right now, “the commission will be sanctioning neighborhood drilling with unlimited numbers of tanks as close as 500 feet to an unlimited number of homes. Other states, like Texas, allow cities to put in setbacks. Colorado has none.”

The commission also came under fire for not following the task force’s recommendation concerning how many hours in a day an operation can make noise.

According to Sura, the task force’s time-limit restriction that recognized that 24-hour operations were disruptive was pulled. “The way the draft is written now,” he said, “you can have 1.5 years of constant industrial noise.”

LaPore addressed this complaint, too, stating that “we pulled duration limits out because the industry doesn’t like the idea. They say we don’t have the authority to limit this.”

LaPore also said, however, that one of the first considerations in the draft was that the rules be developed to the highest possible standards.

“We will not approve facilities unless they include buffer zones, zero flaming or venting of gas,” he said. “We put operators on notice with noise issues and ground surface water protection. The director will consider and give substantial deference to mitigation measures or best-management practices agreed by the operator and the local government.”

Still, when asked by Commissioner DeAnn Craig where the list of best management practices is, LaPore admitted that no such list existed.

Less than 1 percent of the 13 drilling and storage sites approved in the past two years were in areas that would be covered by the new rules, according to the commission’s cost-benefit analysis.

COGCC’s rulemaking hearing on this issue, called Recommendation 17, will continue Jan. 25 at the University of Colorado Public Affairs Terrace Room, 1380 Lawrence Street, Denver.