State speeds wildlife review for drilling
State regulators say they have reduced their turnaround times for oil and gas permit applications subject to review by wildlife officials.
The reviews were a major source of industry concern when they were required under a Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission rules rewrite that took effect a year ago. Companies must consult with the Colorado Division of Wildlife for surface location permit applications in certain wildlife habitat.
Processing times for permits involving wildlife consultations fell from an average of 83 days in September to 53 days in February. Over that same time, wildlife officials cut their part of the review time from 47 to 23 days on average.
However, wildlife consultations still typically add about 20 days to location permit approval times. The DOW’s recommendations for protecting wildlife often may require landowner or energy company approval, which can take several days to obtain. Also, oil and gas regulators may mediate between the DOW and a company to determine final wildlife measures.
Oil and gas commission director Dave Neslin said some companies are taking advantage of the voluntary option of working with the state on comprehensive drilling plans or wildlife mitigation plans to deal with wildlife issues on a landscape level and streamline site-specific permitting.
Antero Resources, EnCana Oil & Gas (USA) and Marathon Oil have adopted wildlife plans in Garfield County, and Gunnison Energy did a comprehensive plan in Gunnison County. Together, they cover close to 100,000 acres, Neslin said.
Mark Cutright, an oil and gas commission member who works in the industry, said that although issues are slowly being resolved, he continues to hear from companies who are frustrated that the consultation process isn’t smoother.
He said it would help to have standards of “best management practices” that companies could draw from to address wildlife concerns in a more expeditious manner. Neslin said that is something regulators hope to eventually consider.
But Michael Freeman, an attorney with the environmental legal group Earthjustice, said Cutright’s call for standard rules is contrary to the general insistence of the industry during the rules rewrite that a clear set of rules isn’t flexible enough to meet companies’ individual needs.
EnCana spokesman Doug Hock said what mitigation measures are most effective usually varies by individual sites and conditions.
DOW spokesman Randy Hampton said his agency’s review times have fallen as it has gotten used to the new rules. It also hired four more people in western Colorado who specialize in the reviews.
“The Division of Wildlife is certainly not holding up the effort to drill in Colorado,” he said.
Hampton said it will take years to understand to what degree the consultation process is reducing oil and gas impacts on wildlife.
“It has certainly given the agency the opportunity to work with industry in the areas where there are wildlife concerns, and from that perspective just being able to sit down at the table gives wildlife quite a bit,” he said.