Oil, gas panel approves groundwater testing mandate

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

The commissioners passed the measure in hopes that it will help reassure citizens concerned about possible contamination related to oil and gas development.

“This is an incredibly volatile issue for the people of the state of Colorado,” said commissioner Mike King, also executive director of the state Department of Natural Resources.

But while groundwater protection is important, “we need to do it in a manner that allows the industry to thrive,” he said.

In an attempting to do that, the commissioned approved rules that 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 after completion. The Colorado Oil and Gas Association supported sampling 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 organization said in a prepared statement.

While two other states have mandatory groundwater programs in place, Colorado is the first to require post-drilling sampling. However, the Environmental Defense Fund characterized Colorado’s new rule as the weakest of any of those that have been proposed or adopted by a handful of states. None of the others have what the group considers 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 – as is required in the five states that have proposed or adopted baseline testing policies (Alaska, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia),” the Environmental Defense Fund said in a news release.

Conservation groups also object to the commission adopting a separate, less intensive testing program in what’s called the Wattenberg oil and gas field centered in Weld County.


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