Colorado seeks to head off problems with runoff on inactive drilling pads

The state is working with area energy companies to try to make sure they’re implementing measures such as runoff control and wildlife protection on inactive well pads amid the drilling slowdown.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is asking companies in western Colorado’s Piceance Basin to identify the locations of pads that have been built but not yet drilled on.

The state also is seeking information such as schedules for stormwater-management inspections and maintenance on the pads, and the number of associated pits and whether they have fencing to keep out wildlife.

State regulators inspect sites once wells are drilled, and they can ensure requirements such as those for any interim reclamation are met.

But companies aren’t required to notify the state when pads have been constructed. Oil and gas officials are concerned about pads that may have been built before companies realized they would be cutting back on drilling, leaving state inspectors unaware of them because drilling never began.

The issue is particularly pertinent for Western Slope operations because climate and topographical factors often cause companies to build pads months in advance of planned drilling, which because of the slowdown may not have ended up occurring on some pads.

“What we want to do is get the location of these pads, work with the operators, see where we stand on interim reclamation,” said Margaret Ash, the agency’s field inspection manager.

Oil and Gas Commission Director Dave Neslin said the agency is particularly concerned about runoff problems that could occur on inactive pads during the snowy winter.

Ash said inspectors want to make sure the sites are stabilized from an erosion control standpoint and are properly secured if no activities are taking place on them.

Michael DeBerry, manager of Chevron’s operations near De Beque, said its temporary suspension of drilling has caused it to go ahead with interim reclamation efforts such as stormwater control and weed management on some pipeline rights of way and other oil and gas development sites.

“It’s purely a matter of, with the slowdown, it’s appropriate to take these steps. It’s just a matter of environmental stewardship,” he said.

As of Tuesday, the state had approved 4,018 drilling permits this year, compared to 8,027 for all of 2008.

Garfield County leads in permit approvals, with 1,512, or 38 percent of the total. Weld County is next, with 1,083, followed by Mesa County with 337 and Rio Blanco County with 312.


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