Setbacks, monitoring and mitigation at issue in proposed rules
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — On the last day of 2012, state regulators unveiled their latest proposal to protect communities from oil and gas drilling impacts, including 500-foot setbacks in rural and urban areas, as well as new requirements for outreach and mitigation.
The rules are aimed at forestalling a groundswell of opposition to fracking in residential areas, but the proposal may be a classic case of too little, to late, as communities around the state consider outright bans on fracking.
The draft rules are based on months of stakeholder meetings and public participation, including nearly a year of presentations and comment on the issue of how best to balance energy production with the need to minimize impacts on residences from nearby oil and gas development.
Conservation advocates pointed out that many residents want greater setbacks.
“Governor Hickenlooper’s disappointing proposed oil and gas regulations, released late on New Years Eve, will not bring many Coloradans comfort or joy as they ring in the New Year,” Conservation Colorado said in a prepared statement.
“After months of hearing from stakeholders and thousands of citizens across the state who want greater setbacks, the Governor’s proposal would still allow heavy industrial activity near our homes and families. As local governments act to address drilling impacts near communities, these proposed weak regulations raise concerns of the ability and political will of the administration to properly regulate drilling and fracking in our State.
“While opposing these weak standards, we will continue to push for meaningful protective buffer zones and strong groundwater testing near drilling and fracking which put the health and welfare of Coloradans and our communities first.
“These proposed rules reinforce Colorado’s role as a national pacesetter in the comprehensive and progressive regulation of oil and gas exploration and production,” said Matt Lepore, director of the COGCC, the state’s regulatory agency that staffs the Governor-appointed Commission. “These proposals contain mitigation standards unprecedented nationally and mark yet another step forward in fashioning a model regulatory framework that strikes a balance that’s right for Colorado.”
“At the same time, we understand that our draft rules will leave no one set of interests completely satisfied, and provide various targets for those who want to see it done differently,” Lepore said. “And yet, we expect most everyone who participated will see elements and concepts in these proposals that they helped initiate and push forward.”
Components of the proposals include:
The new rules will require operators to meet enhanced mitigation, notice and outreach requirements when drilling near residences beginning at 1,000 feet. Setbacks in previous rules of 350 feet (urban) and 150 feet (rural) will now be 500 feet statewide.
New measures to limit impacts may include pit-less drilling, steel berms and underground liners, strict dust and lighting controls and capture of gasses to reduce odors and emissions.
Operators must engage in expanded notice and outreach efforts with nearby residents and conduct additional engagement with local governments about proposed operations.
Operators must conduct sampling of water wells near drilling sites both before and after drilling activities to ensure drinking water aquifers are protected. This would make Colorado the only state to require sampling both pre- and post-drilling.
Operators cannot operate within 1,000 feet of buildings housing larger numbers of people, such as schools, nursing homes and hospitals without a hearing before the Commission.
These proposals will be considered during public hearings scheduled for January 7, 8 and 9 before the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. The Commission can modify the proposal, or pursue other options, based on testimony during this hearing, and in previous hearings that have taken place on these matters in recent weeks.
The upcoming hearings will take place at the Sheraton Denver Downtown Hotel, 1550 Court Place, beginning at 9 a.m. each day. The Commission includes representatives from across Colorado. Seats are filled by members with expertise in environmental and wildlife protection, agriculture, soil conservation, oil and gas production and regulatory oversight.