New rule will allow landowners recourse in drilling operations

Landowners would have to be notified of proposed oil and gas development near their property, and owners of lands proposed for such development could request a hearing on approvals of associated permits, under rules tentatively approved on Thursday.

However, nearby landowners wouldn’t have the right to request such hearings, and neither would others who claim to be adversely impacted by the development, according to decisions by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission as it continued a major rewrite of its regulations.

The commission rejected a request by environmental and other groups that it entitle any potentially aggrieved party to seek hearings on approvals of permits for new wells and oil and gas locations.

The commission is rewriting its rules in response to new laws requiring that oil and gas development be balanced against protection of public health, the environment and wildlife. Michael Freeman, an attorney for environmental groups, said people with concerns about proposed development would receive no remedy under the new legislation if they aren’t entitled to a hearing.

He specifically referred to residents living in the area of the Project Rulison underground nuclear blast site near Rulison. Some residents there fear that recent natural gas development near the site poses a threat of radioactive contamination.

“We believe that the statute gives these people a right to a hearing,” Freeman said.

Under current rules, only local governments can request such a hearing. Some Rulison-area residents became frustrated earlier this year when Garfield County refused to seek a hearing on their behalf.

Commission staff told the commission allowing hearing requests by parties claiming to be aggrieved could result in a burdensome number of hearings. Industry attorney Howard Boigon worried that it could serve as “a license to challenge every permit.”

The rules approved Thursday would allow not just local governments but state wildlife and health agencies to seek a hearing. Acting commission director Dave Neslin said people could ask any of these entities to request a hearing on their behalf.

The commission did tentatively agree to allow the owner of any property proposed for development request a hearing based on a belief that the approved oil and gas plan may violate state laws and regulations. In addition, except in the case of an oil and gas field in northeast Colorado, it agreed to provide notification of proposed wells and oil and gas locations to owners of neighboring land within 500 feet of those sites.


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