Proposed drilling rules seek middle ground
Because new regulations proposed by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission were released the afternoon of New Year’s Eve, there hasn’t been a great deal of reaction to them yet.
But what there has been, as reported by The Denver Post, is predictable enough and an indication that the proposed rules hew to a middle-of-the-road approach.
A spokesman for a homebuilders’ group complained that the rules go too far in establishing 500-foot setbacks for drill rigs operating near residences, while an environment groups maintained setback requirements are inadequate.
Missing so far is any comment from the oil and gas industry, which will obviously be affected greatly by the new rules.
We hope industry officials will embrace another part of the new regulations, which involve water sampling.
The proposed rule would mandate that operators drilling oil and gas wells sample water wells near their drilling sites both before and after drilling occurs, to ensure drinking water is protected.
That regulation would make Colorado the only state in the country to require water-well sampling both prior to drilling and afterward.
More importantly, for energy companies it would provide a solid baseline for water quality in wells before drilling begins, which can be compared with post-drilling samples. That way, everyone will know if there are unusual materials in the water prior to drilling, and people cannot blame drilling operations for substances already in the water.
Ongoing water sampling during drilling, which is not required in the proposed regulations, could discern water-quality problems if they developed during drilling and provide an opportunity to correct them.
Exactly what the setback distance should be from homes, schools and other public building has been a matter of much debate as the Oil and Gas Commission has held stakeholder meetings in recent months. Those meetings led to the release of the proposed draft regulations this week.
Nobody wants a drilling rig in his or her backyard, and the current 150-foot minimum setback from homes in rural areas is too close for most people’s comfort. But setback requirements should not be so onerous that drilling companies can’t access oil and gas that they legally have a right to beneath private land.
Directional drilling technology has made it possible for drill rigs to tap resources from much greater distances than previously. So the 500-foot limit established in the draft rules seems to be a reasonable compromise.
The Oil and Gas Commission will hold public hearings on the draft rules next week in Denver. But the commission and its staff have clearly made an effort to seek middle ground with these new rules, while demonstrating they want to protect Colorado’s water resources.