State and federal officials continue to work toward renewal of an agreement for coordinating their rules pertaining to oil and gas development that occurs on federal lands.
A 10-year agreement between the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, U.S. Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service was due to expire earlier this year but parties extended it through Dec. 31 to allow discussions on a new agreement to continue.
State-level BLM spokesman Jayson Barangan said that if that agreement expires without being extended or a new agreement yet being reached, the BLM plans to continue abiding by the spirit of the existing pact while continuing to work with the state on the new one.
Scott Cuthbertson, the COGCC's new deputy director of operations, who was in Rifle Thursday for the latest Northwest Colorado Oil and Gas Forum, said in an interview that he thinks there is no reason not to continue operating under the terms of the current agreement if a new one isn't reached by Dec. 31.
The 2009 memorandum of understanding between the agencies provides that oil and gas companies are subject to both federal and state rules while operating on federal lands. It is intended to clarify the roles of state and federal agencies in permitting on federal lands, avoid conflicts between state and federal regulations and provide for a consultation process and for efficient and effective permitting.
Discussions regarding renewing the agreement have been complicated by the fact that the COGCC is in the middle of a series of rulemaking proceedings to overhaul how it regulates oil and gas development in the state, to comply with Senate Bill 181, passed earlier this year. The state Air Quality Control Commission also is undertaking rules revisions due to the law.
Local BLM spokesman David Boyd told attendees at Thursday's Rifle forum that the BLM is talking with the state agencies about what everything going on in the state means for oil and gas operations on federal lands.
"We're working all that out," he said.
Cuthbertson said after the forum, "Our expectation is that that memorandum is going to be worked out. It's just a process of doing it."
The state has been tightening its oil and gas rules even as the Trump administration has been easing some federal rules. But Cuthbertson said he's not hearing of resistance from the BLM to the idea of working with the state and its rules.
"We haven't heard any expressions of concerns about fatal flaws," he said.
Eric Carlson, executive director of the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association industry group, said it probably will continue to be business as usual while discussions continue, but he'll have to wait and see.
As for state and federal parties renewing the agreement, "They can't really decide on how to resolve that until they get through the rulemaking because they don't know what the final rules are going to be yet," he said.
Two rulemaking subjects of particular interest to the industry pertain to addressing cumulative impacts of drilling and analysis of alternative sites for facilities. Carlson said these things are largely addressed on federal land through reviews required by the National Environmental Policy Act.
"It would be our hope that that process would be recognized by COGCC," he said.
Cuthbertson told forum attendees that his expectation is that the COGCC and BLM will have a continuing successful relationship with little or no duplication of regulatory processes for companies.
"I can tell you we're very sensitive to duplication of efforts because we have a huge lift to make by July 1," he said.
That was a reference to the deadline for the COGCC to complete rulemaking work covering several topics and also transition to oversight by a panel of paid, full-time commissioners.
Carlson said a current concern for the industry is the delay between when federal officials approve permits and when the state does for drilling on federal land.
"That time seems to be getting longer," said Carlson, who said one purpose of an agreement would be to assure those approvals follow each other in short order.
"What we don't want to see is the federal permit issued and the state not to issue a permit. Then it becomes a real conflict," he said.