Pit rules prove slippery for oil, gas panel

State regulators Sunday dipped their toes into the waters of proposed new rules for oil and gas development pits and waste and soon found themselves bogged down over the question of whether some of those rules should be applied retroactively.

Meeting in a rare weekend session, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission provisionally approved a number of rules covering areas such as spill reporting, when pit liners must be used, and how they should be closed following use. However, it put off until today some tough decisions, such as determining whether pit lining requirements would apply to existing pits.

“This is potentially an enormous cost,” said Commissioner Joshua Epel.

Among other provisions, the rules the commission tentatively approved Sunday would require liners for production pits unless operators can show the pits pose no threat of harming underlying groundwater.

Commission staff members said they envisioned the requirement being applied retroactively, but with a phased compliance schedule to reduce the upfront costs to companies.

The commission’s environmental manager, Debbie Baldwin, said there are 11,000 to 12,000 permitted pits in the state. She didn’t know how many aren’t lined. However, she said retroactive compliance is consistent with rules requiring protection of groundwater.

Checking the integrity of all unlined pits could cost $440 per site for a review of documents and $10,000 or more if a monitoring well must be drilled, Baldwin said.

Commissioners on Sunday also debated but did not act on a proposed requirement to maintain records regarding the generation, transport and disposal of waste. Baldwin said the need for the requirements is exemplified by two cases of dumping by truckers in a matter of weeks.

The commission says Blac Frac Tanks, while working as a contractor for Williams Production RMT, twice this month spilled fluids in Garfield County. In the first case, a trucker deliberately released fluids contaminated by oil into a dry gulch, the state says.

Over recent months, the oil and gas commission has given preliminary approval to a series of rules created in response to legislation passed last year requiring oil and gas development to be balanced against protection of public health, the environment and wildlife. It decided to meet on a Sunday in hopes of keeping on a timetable under which it could give final approval to the new rules before the year’s end.


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