Aspen Daily News 1/7/12 PitCo Request for Stricter O&G Regs

Jan 7, 2013

As the state reviews new oil and gas regulations, Pitkin County commissioners and staff argue that the proposed policies are not comprehensive and do not give the local government enough power in restricting development.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), which oversees drilling in the state, is currently considering new regulations governing gas drilling setbacks from homes and groundwater monitoring near gas wells.

Under the most recent draft, which was released on New Year’s Eve, oil and gas wells would be required to be setback 500 feet from buildings, including residential, commercial and public structures. Also, oil and gas operators would be required to take samples from two groundwater sources near drilling sites to be tested for contamination.

Those regulations don’t give enough discretion to the local government, wrote county commissioners in a November letter to the COGCC. Instituting a statewide standard isn’t the best way to regulate development, because it doesn’t give the local government, which has a better understanding of the area, the authority to institute a higher setback in case local conditions demand it, commissioners wrote. If a setback is instituted it should be 1,000 feet or more and that distance could be reduced at the discretion of the local government, according to commissioners.

The county hasn’t received a response to the letter since it was sent, according to Jon Peacock, county manager, and the most recent New Year’s Eve draft of the proposed regulation did not address the commissioners’ critiques.

Photo courtesy of EcoFlight
An aerial view of an oil and gas operation in Garfield County, with homes located nearby.

In the letter, county commissioners also supported instituting new ground water monitoring regulations, but criticized the proposal for not being thorough enough in outlining enforcement and protocol standards. Commissioners also argued that two sampling sites should be a minimum and more tests should be required based on the specific area where oil and gas is being developed.

Kurt Dahl, county environmental health manager, said that the water monitoring regulations give too much leniency to the oil and gas operators and allow them to set their own timeline in testing the area without addressing what should be done if water is found to be contaminated. For example, under the proposed regulations, oil and gas operators can be exempt from testing water if a source can’t be found within a mile of the well.

“The general consensus is that the regulations were written very loosely,” Dahl said. 
“ ... There is no discussion or follow up of what happens if we do find something wrong.”

A new draft of the proposed groundwater regulations hasn’t been issued since the county submitted its comments.

Meanwhile, the statewide environmental group Conservation Colorado also criticized the proposed regulations, calling them weak.  

“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,” the group wrote in a press release issued last week.

The COGCC will hold hearings today through Wednesday about the proposed new rules at the Sheraton Denver Downtown Hotel, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day.