New oil and gas rules to take effect April 1

Regulators plan to implement new rules governing Colorado’s oil and gas industry on April 1 — a date governed in part by a hiring freeze in state government.

Dave Neslin, acting director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, identified that target date Monday as commission members continued to move closer to completion of months-long deliberations on the rules.

The commission on Monday gave provisional approval to rules governing handling of oil and gas pits and waste. It is scheduled to review and give final approval to its entire set of rules in
December, which Neslin said would enable the rules to take effect on Feb. 1 at the earliest.

However, he said commission staff members have been busy with the rules rewrite and a heavy load of drilling permits, slowing their ability to hire more staff as the state Legislature has authorized.

Then, effective Oct. 1, Gov. Bill Ritter instituted a state hiring freeze in response to the national economic slowdown.

Neslin said he hopes the freeze will be lifted early next month, but that would mean new employees needed to implement the rules wouldn’t likely be hired and on board until February. Time also is needed to provide training about the rules, he said.

Commissioners signaled general informal support for Neslin’s April 1 implementation date, after the industry unsuccessfully requested a June 1 start date. The industry contended more time is needed to train its own staff and put systems in place to comply with the sweeping new rules.

Attorney Michael Freeman, representing environmental groups, supported the April 1 implementation date but worried that companies might submit a slew of drilling permit applications before then, while the rules are still more lenient.

Neslin said the commission staff plans to put in place an interim policy next month. Under it, energy companies would have to indicate if drilling permit applications are located in areas under which the new rules are intended to protect things such as riparian habitat, drinking water supplies and wildlife.

The agency then would enact special conditions of approval where warranted, Neslin said.

Regarding the pit rules, commissioners on Monday agreed to require liners in many cases. It decided not to make the requirement retroactive for most pits, but also to make clear that the agency already has authority to retroactively require liners when warranted.


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