Longmont lawsuit looked at for drilling rules clarity

A state lawsuit against the city of Longmont over its oil and gas regulations could help address a gray area between state and local oversight of the industry, a Colorado Department of Natural Resources official said Saturday in Grand Junction.

Ginny Brannon, assistant director of water and energy for the department, spoke as part of a panel on hydraulic fracturing at Club 20’s spring meeting at Colorado Mesa University.

The state sued Longmont out of concern that its rules infringed on areas the state believes it should control. Brannon said there’s little debate about local governments’ authority over land-use aspects of oil and gas operations, or the state’s authority over “down-hole” technical ones involving wells. But the problems arise in areas that fall somewhere between these two areas.

“And so we need some clarity, and frankly, I think it will be great to get some clarity from the courts here and see how this goes,” she said.

The local control issue arises amid concerns in Colorado and in other states over the potential health and environmental impacts of fracking. But both Brannon and Dave Andrews, an engineering supervisor for the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, said Saturday the concern is misplaced because fracking is safe.

Brannon said that for concerned people, fracking has come to be a synonym for drilling, and oil and gas activity in general.

“So we’re really not talking about fracturing, we’re talking about drilling,” she said.

Andrews said thick geological barriers protect shallow groundwater from fracturing that occurs deep underground.

Jay Foreman, who manages well completion operations in the Piceance Basin for WPX Energy, said, “None of the operators want fractures to grow out of the zone of interests because it’s very costly. We certainly don’t want (ground) water entering into our operations as well.”

Andrews said the COGCC isn’t aware of any groundwater impacts from fracturing, but there have been problems during drilling of wells and the cementing process intended to seal them off.

Such problems led to methane and benzene reaching West Divide Creek south of Silt in 2004. But the COGCC put in more stringent policies for much of the Piceance Basin after that to prevent recurrences of such problems, Andrews said.

Brannon said the focus of new regulations being adopted by the oil and gas commission is to address where impacts can occur. For example, pit lining requirements have been toughened and pitless drilling encouraged.

Brannon pointed to a number of requirements the commission has implemented in recent years, including public disclosure of the contents of hydraulic fracturing fluids, testing of area groundwater before and after drilling operations, and new setback rules requiring mitigation measures within 1,000 feet of buildings and excluding drilling closer than 500 feet except under certain exceptions.

Those rules drew a challenge from J. Paul Brown of La Plata County, who said his and others’ property rights are harmed by increased setbacks and asked who would pay for that.

But Brannon noted that the oil and gas commission can grant variances for drilling as close as 200 feet.

“So it’s not a taking in that sense,” she said.

Not satisfied, Brown said, “I want you to know that somebody’s going to pay.”

Linda Romer Todd, a Grand Junction real estate agent, told Brannon she’s concerned about how many people are losing drilling-related jobs in the region.

“They all tell me that it’s because of the new regulations that are being imposed on the industry here,” she said.

Brannon said that since the passage of new regulations in 2008 oil production in the state has increased 30 percent, and gas production 10 percent, and Colorado has seen more wells being drilled than in surrounding states.

Mesa County Commissioner John Justman said while the well count may be up on private land in Weld County, “I’m sure it’s not in western Colorado.”


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J. Paul Brown of La Plata County is unhappy about setback rules because he thinks the rules may deprive him of some income. The fact that COGCC can grant variances and bring drilling up to within 50 feet of before does not dispel his disgruntlement. His only response is “I want you to know that somebody’s going to pay.” This guy appears to be extremely dense and even greedier. The guy doesn’t even realize that with horizontal drilling, they will get his minerals from up to 2 miles away with the rig. If they were 200 feet away from his home, he would be bitching about all the other problems. This is an uninformed person that has no concept of the idea behind frying pan and fire saying. And Todd, the agent, concerned about regulation causing job loss – doesn’t take the time to find out the facts of economic market influence, she just listens to industry hype to counter efforts to make them do things right. Justman parroting the same tripe with his “private land” comment while totally ignoring the glaring fact of increases in a down priced market. No, these people are only pandering their own self-interests albeit extra income, an easy job effort, or what might generate votes, but ignoring the problems and hardships that these changes are and will be preventing.
When Foreman says, “None of the operators want fractures to grow out of the zone of interests because it’s very costly. We certainly don’t want (ground) water entering into our operations as well.”, it is because these things happen regardless of industry wanting them to. Dr. Anthony Ingraffea, who helped develop the fracking technology, in a presentation in Halifax, Nova Scotia on December 2, 2011 presented a paper that showed the fallacies of industry hyperbole on the myths of control and development of the technology involved. (ingraffea_NB_dec_2011_ingraffea.ppt)
It is really all said in the industry exemptions to Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, why were they needed?

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