Rule would set guidelines for new drilling sites

New rules tentatively approved Wednesday would require energy companies in four western Colorado counties to receive state approval for new oil and gas operation sites.

The approvals would be required in addition to permits already needed to drill individual wells, according to rules given an initial OK by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

The new requirement would apply to Garfield, Mesa, Rio Blanco and Gunnison counties. The commission agreed to add Gunnison to the list upon the request of that county, and following the urging by oil and gas commissioner Tresi Houpt, also a Garfield County commissioner.

“I think we truly need to look at (geological basins) instead of counties. Activity is going to travel. I know there are other counties in the … Piceance Basin who would want to be involved in this process as well,” Houpt said.

Commission staff initially had suggested having the new requirement apply to the entire Piceance Basin, centered in northwest Colorado, but its draft proposal reduced the applicable area to just three counties.

However, detailed information about new sites would have to be provided for operations throughout the state, even if approval wouldn’t be required everywhere.

The new site approvals would apply at the well pad, rather than single-well, level, in a region where dozens of wells sometimes are drilled directionally from a single pad.

The commission is in the middle of deliberations on a wide-ranging rewrite of its regulations. Those deliberations are scheduled to resume today. It has been provisionally approving various regulations in anticipation of casting a final vote later.

In other action Wednesday, the commission supported generally waiving most drilling reclamation rules in cases in which surface owners have reached their own reclamation agreements with energy companies. The commission declined to disallow such waivers even when there are significant adverse impacts to wildlife.

Commissioners said the issue was a matter of protecting private-property rights, and the Colorado Division of Wildlife supported the waiver.

Also Wednesday, Commissioner Rich Alward of Grand Junction voiced disappointment that the issue of interim reclamation of oil and gas operations won’t be addressed until next year, when a stakeholder group studies it. Alward said the commission is failing to act as fast as is required to abide by a law mandating that reclamation standards be improved for the sake of wildlife.

“I think we’ve fallen gravely short of the language there,” said Alward, who works professionally in the reclamation field.


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