State tightens spill rule in oil, gas fields

Oil and gas companies will have to report smaller spills sooner under new rules approved by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission Tuesday.

The commission unanimously adopted a requirement requiring reporting within 24 hours of all spills of five barrels or more. That requirement previously applied to spills of 20 barrels or more. A barrel is 42 gallons.

The commission implemented the change while also formally adopting into its rules a bill approved earlier this year that requires reporting within 24 hours of all spills of a barrel or more that occur outside secondary containment such as metal or earthen berms. That requirement took effect Aug. 7.

Previously, spills of between five barrels and 20 barrels had to be reported within 10 days, with no reporting requirements for smaller spills except in certain circumstances.

“The rules continue to require reporting within 24 hours of any spill that impacts or threatens to impact waters of the state, any occupied structure, livestock, a public byway or surface water supply area,” the state Department of Natural Resources said in a news release Tuesday.

Commission director Matt Lepore said in the release, “These are important improvements to our spill reporting requirements and improve our ability to track and respond to spills and releases across Colorado. These regulations will improve the public’s confidence in our ability to protect public health, safety and our environment.”

The rules as approved Tuesday included some minor revisions to the latest draft proposal. The draft proposed requiring a written spill report from companies within 48 hours. The final rule allows 72 hours, to provide extra time for companies that may be busy responding to the spill itself and may be dealing with weekend or holiday timeframes or small staffs.

One point of contention in the rules involved whether chemical spills that occur before those chemicals are used in a well for purposes such as hydraulic fracturing should be covered by the rules. The commission decided they shouldn’t because it says its jurisdiction extends only to exploration and production wastes coming up from a well — and not what hasn’t yet gone downhole.

Matt Sura, an attorney representing Western Resource Advocates, said that distinction is lost on the public, which would expect reporting to the commission of spills of drilling and fracking fluids.

Lepore said reporting of such spills are subject to reporting requirements of other agencies such as the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Western Resource Advocates also argued that the secondary containment exclusion to the reporting requirement for spills between one and five barrels should mean berms that have liners, because they otherwise provide little or no protection.

The rule requires that secondary containment be “sufficiently impervious” to contain a spill.


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