Groundwater testing rules approved

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission unanimously approved Monday the requirement of groundwater testing before and after drilling, the first such rules in the nation.

The commissioners hope the measure will help reassure citizens concerned about possible contamination related to oil and gas development.

“This new set of groundwater monitoring rules once again puts Colorado in the forefront of thoughtful and progressive regulatory oversight of energy development,” commission Director Matt Lepore said in a news release.

However, the commission’s new rules drew criticism from both industry and conservationists.

It requires testing from up to four water wells or other sources within a half-mile of a well site, depending on availability, with one test per well before drilling and two per well at various times after completion. The Colorado Oil and Gas Association supported having to sample three wells, with one test per well pre-drilling and post-completion.

“The Colorado Oil & Gas Association … supports a statewide groundwater baseline sampling program that continues Colorado’s leadership as a state balancing responsible energy development with environmental stewardship. Unfortunately, this new rule does not seem to meet that balance,” the association’s Doug Flanders.

While two other states have mandatory groundwater programs, Colorado is the first to require post-drilling sampling.

However, the Environmental Defense Fund characterized Colorado’s new rule as the weakest of any that have been proposed or adopted by a handful of states. None of the others has what is an arbitrary cap on sites to be tested around a well.

“Groundwater experts agree that, in order to have a robust program, all water sources near a production well should be sampled in order to account for localized variation in hydrogeology …” the group said.

While voting for the new state testing program, commission member DeAnn Craig said it doesn’t address the real threat to groundwater, which comes not from wells but leaks from pipelines and other oil and gas surface facilities.

The commission on Monday also resumed consideration of proposed increased minimum setbacks between drilling and homes. In doing so, it rejected a motion by industry groups to bar testimony from residents who believe they’ve suffered health impacts from nearby drilling. The motion said the residents aren’t medically qualified to offer such opinions.

Commissioner John Benton said where such testimony is presented, scientific corroboration is needed.

“But I also do agree that this is information that we need to hear as a commission,” he said.


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