Colorado: Not much love for new fracking rules

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Finding common ground on proposed new oil and gas drilling rules won’t be easy based on initial comments. @bberwyn photo.

Industry, community groups both criticize meek draft regulations

Staff Report

New rules proposed by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission are drawing fire from both the industry, which says the proposed regulations go far beyond what was recommended by an advisory panel that met last summer, and by some citizen groups, who claim rules leave the door wide-open to large-scale fracking operations near homes and schools.

The proposed rules specifically address recommendations made by the Colorado Oil and Gas Task Force related to the size of oil and gas extraction and processing facilities, requirements for advance disclosure of drilling plans and  the ability of local communities to help determine locations through a consultation process. The proposed rules are posted here.The Colorado Oil and Gas Association immediately issued a critical statement, and a Weld County community group was not far behind.

“While we are still reviewing the proposals in detail, it’s clear the draft rules far exceed the actual recommendations put forward by the Governor’s Task Force,” COGA president and CEO Dan Haley said. “We’re disappointed this draft seems to dismiss the hard work of the Governor’s Task Force, which spent 9 months deliberating and deciding on these recommendations. The task force worked hard to find compromise on some very contentious issues and most of the recommendations were approved with unanimous votes,” Haley said.

According to Haley, the industry will use the upcoming stakeholder meetings to bring the proposed rules back in line with the task force recommendations.

On the other side, a coalition of community groups said they’re frustrated with the proposed rules because they still enable large-scale drilling and fracking operations in residential areas.

“We are concerned that after several meetings between impacted citizens and the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, that the administration has chosen largely to ignore the needs and concerns of Colorado communities,” said Wendy Highby of Weld Air and Water from Greeley. “This rule seems designed to accommodate drilling in neighborhoods rather than protecting public health and welfare.”

The proposed rules may leave rural Colorado communities hanging and don’t go far enough to ensure that industrial fracking zones are kept a safe distance from schools and neighborhoods, the groups said.

“We’re getting thrown under the bus here,” said Grand Valley Citizens Alliance president Leslie Robinson. “Drilling in neighborhoods spurred the recent controversies about oil and gas development in Colorado. These draft rules fail to address this root problem. We saw this process as an opportunity to address the problem of big oil and gas facilities being sited close to homes and communities. Instead, the Commission is proposing to basically enshrine companies’ right to keep doing exactly that.”

An Adams County group also chimed in, claiming that the proposed rules ” fail to even mitigate the very harsh impacts of oil and gas developments on people.”

The groups said they spent time outlining their concerns to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission in a series of meetings, but that none of their concerns are reflected in the draft rules.

Here’s what the community groups were asking for:

  1. Define a large oil and gas facility using a matrix that uses proximity and scale in order to mitigate intensity:

The proximity to homes and schools must be a factor when determining whether a proposed oil and gas facility is “Large Scale.” Truly “large scale” facilities should not be allowed within 1,500 feet of homes.

  1. All Colorado residents in close proximity to a proposed large oil and gas facility need to have access to siting tools and appropriate mitigation measures:

The current definition of “Urban Mitigation Area” cannot be adequately justified. Because the current definition ties health and safety mitigations to number of buildings instead of to people or potential human impact, its application is inadequate for both rural and urban Coloradans. All Coloradans living near proposed Large Scale Oil and Gas Facilities need these protections, not just urban residents.

  1. Close existing setback loopholes for using an existing surface use agreement or expanding an existing well into a “large oil and gas facility:”

Allowing exceptions to the setback rules for expanding existing facilities and/or using an existing surface use agreement that would allow oil and gas facilities closer than 500 feet from a home must be eliminated. These exceptions were not contemplated for large scale facilities but could very well be abused under future administrations.

  1. Prohibit the siting of Class II waste injection facilities near residential areas:

Waste injections wells are industrial operations that are not limited by the location of oil and gas or mineral rights. These industrial facilities must be located away from residential areas.

  1. Use property line of schools as marker to measure distance between a school and a well or production facility:

Playgrounds and fields outside of schools receive more use than any other outdoor area in our communities. Oil and gas activities should not be allowed near outdoor activity areas near schools.

  1. Landowners adjacent to a proposed large oil and gas site should have standing to request a hearing before the COGCC:

Large Scale Oil and Gas Facilities could change a residentially-zoned area into a de-facto industrial area. Due process requires that landowners who would be negatively affected by these facilities have a fair opportunity to be heard by the COGCC.

  1. Utilize “siting tools” to locate large oil and gas facilities away from residential areas when feasible:

The COGCC Director needs explicit authority to deny irresponsible oil and gas locations and to utilize “siting tools” to move locations away from residences.

  1. Increased health and safety mitigation measures should be required at all large oil and gas facilities:

Additional baseline mitigation measures at the state level for Large Scale Facilities should include new noise, odor, dust, and safety protections. We understand that the oil and gas industry is opposed to requiring any additional mitigation measures because the Director has authority to impose conditions on the permit. However, impacted communities fundamentally disagree that the COGCC’s authority to mitigate and a regulatory requirement for the industry to mitigate are substantially equivalent means of protecting the community. They are not. COGCC should require additional mitigation measures to protect impacted communities from the large impacts of large scale facilities.

 

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