State passes new oil, gas rules

Regulations aimed at protecting water, disclosing info on chemicals

After months of consideration, state regulators Tuesday gave final approval to a host of new rules aimed at reducing the impacts of oil and gas development in Colorado.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission approved rules in numerous areas, including stream setback requirements to protect public water supplies, and requiring oil and gas developers to provide information to authorities as necessary regarding the chemicals they use.

Commissioners are scheduled to continue their final deliberations through Thursday. Two key areas still awaiting final action involve wildlife protections and stricter drilling pit requirements.

Commissioners approved numerous measures with unanimous or near-unanimous votes Tuesday. However, a few decisions were closer, including a rebuff of an attempt to impose greater interim setback requirements between wells and homes.

The commission previously had decided to put off final action on those setbacks until a stakeholder group could study it next year. But Commissioner Michael Dowling argued that in the meantime, wells shouldn’t be allowed any closer than 350 feet from an occupied building unless the owner agrees to a waiver. The current minimum setback for homes in rural areas is 150 feet.

Commissioner Tresi Houpt, also a Garfield County commissioner, supported the interim proposal, citing recent incidents in the county including a gas-well fire and an out-of-control well that spewed gas for two days.

“We’ve seen some pretty dramatic occurrences happen on well pads. We’ve been very fortunate that these wells haven’t been 150 feet from homes,” Houpt said.

But the commission voted 5-3 to make no changes to the setback rules until the stakeholder process is completed. Commissioner Joshua Epel said establishing an interim setback distance would prejudice the work of that group.

Some rules commissioners approved Tuesday include:

•  Requirements for state approval of new oil and gas operation sites disturbing more than an acre in Garfield, Mesa, Rio Blanco and Gunnison counties, and in limited circumstances elsewhere. The site approval requirement is in addition to permits already needed to drill individual wells.

•  New odor- and dust-control measures, many of them applying only to Garfield, Mesa and Rio Blanco counties.

• Provisions allowing state wildlife and health agencies to seek hearings on proposed oil and gas development, along with the owner of the land proposed for that development and the energy company. In most of the state, owners of neighboring land within 500 feet of a proposed activity also would have to be notified of the plans.

The commission is adopting its new rules in response to 2007 legislation requiring oil and gas development to be balanced against protection of public health, the environment and wildlife. The rules generally are scheduled to take effect April 1, except on federal lands, where enforcement would begin May 1.


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