Rules to the rescue

Here’s an interesting twist — a sort of “turn about is fair play” story.

A Silt woman who has been a vocal proponent of the state adopting tough new gas drilling regulations lost her bid to halt gas fracturing near her home, in part due to the new regulations.

Lisa Bracken asked the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to stop EnCana from fracturing wells already drilled near her home, and to consider a moratorium on new well drilling, because of the threat of water contamination.

But David Neslin, director of the commission, told Bracken than an order delaying fracturing of existing wells isn’t warranted. One reason, he explained, is that new state rules include a requirement to monitor gas pressure in wells during fracturing. That mandate, Neslin said, “is sufficient to safeguard the aquifers” in the area near her home.

Bracken and others fear that fracturing — cracking open underground formations to help gas flow — could result in the contamination of surface water and wells in the area. They point to a seep in West Divide Creek in 2004, in which gas and benzene showed up in the water near where an EnCana well was being drilled.

But Neslin said in an e-mail to Bracken that “none of the past events outlined in your letter indicate hydraulic fracturing causes adverse impacts to the environment.”

Additionally, state officials and EnCana say monitoring tests have shown that renewed drilling in the area isn’t contaminating well water. And, while Garfield County officials are reportedly considering asking for a drilling moratorium in the area after they receive a report from a geological consultant they have hired, they have made no request for the moratorium as yet, Neslin said.

This newspaper has supported the idea behind the new gas rules since they were first contemplated by the Legislature two years ago because of the need to give stronger protection to things like water, wildlife and public health. However, we argued earlier this year that it would be prudent to delay their implementation during the current economic crisis.

But the bulk of the rules took effect April 1, and we have no doubt that Neslin and his agency will seek to implement them in such a way that they balance the health and environmental concerns against the need to recover a valuable natural resource.

In this case, at least, it’s good to see the new rules helped keep industry operations going rather than halting them.


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