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Colorado: New rule for sampling groundwater near oil and gas wells wins committee test

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New rules would tighten up water testing around oil and gas wells  in Colorado’s Greater Wattenberg area.

Proposed law would end exemption for busy oil and gas fields northeast of Denver

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A new measure to protect Colorado water quality from fracking impacts narrowly passed a House committee on a 6-5 vote. HB 1316 requires state regulators to adopt uniform statewide groundwater sampling rules and ends an exemption for the largest oil and gas field in Colorado in the Greater Wattenberg area.

The measure would require sampling of all groundwater sources (up to a maximum of four wells) within a half-mile of proposed oil and gas wells, as well as follow-up sampling after the wells are drilled.

State officials previously said the Greater Wattenberg Are exemption was made because the state already has a robust water quality database for that area. Requiring more testing would put an “undue burden on the industry without providing additional safety benefits,” said Ginny Brannon, assistant director for water and energy at the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, in a January interview with Summit Voice.

Brannon said Weld County has a groundwater testing program that  provides water well testing to any well owner requesting it, but conservation groups want more consistent statewide standards for testing. They said the new requirements are a step toward better protection of public health and the environment.

“Coloradans are increasingly concerned about the impacts of drilling and fracking. Colorado families, communities, and businesses in Weld, Boulder, and Larimer counties have the right to know how their water is impacted by this heavy industrial activity and deserve to have the same groundwater protections as the rest of the state,” said Pete Maysmith, director of Conservation Colorado.

Maysmith said the law would help hold the fossil fuel industry accountable for any impacts and ensure transparency for residents.

Currently 25 percent of all drilling activity and the most intense growth of development and applications for new drilling occurs in the Greater Wattenberg Area.  Of the twenty eight spills that have been reported to the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission this month, fifteen occurred in that area. The current testing regime requires sampling of only one water source in each quarter section. More widespread sampling will help with early detection of spills and contamination, according to conservation advocates.

“In recent months, Adams County has seen increasing public concern about oil and gas development happening close to homes and neighborhoods.  In our community, we see areas with very tight development across our entire county, yet the Greater Wattenberg Area is exempt from this rule,” said Adams County Commissioner Eva Henry. “Why should the wells be treated differently when it comes to monitoring groundwater just because they are on the wrong side of our county? We are relying on the state to create baseline monitoring, which is not possible with two different standards. all of Adams County deserves the same level of protection,” Henry said.

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3 Responses

  1. Why does the Voice provide no counterpoint to the viewpoints of opponents of hydraulic fracturing, nor any opportunity to hear the reasons offered by the Governor for suggesting that there might be a reason that a one-size-fits-all approach does not work? As a geologist, the Governor is distinctly well-qualified to provide a sound technical rationale for his choice, but the Voice appears to reject the possibility that such a technical rationale is worth hearing.

    • Hi Jeremy, I added in some material from a previous story outlining the state’s position on groundwater testing in the Greater Wattenberg Area.

  2. A really informative article. Water testing is such an important part of ensuring that the environment stays safe and that any work we may be doing is not effecting anything.

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