After Gov. Jared Polis signed Senate Bill 19-181 into law last week, operators, government officials and other interested parties across Colorado will have both eyes on the rule-making process to see how exactly oil and natural gas industry regulations will change.
That could take weeks, months and possibly even years, some observers say.
The bill, introduced by the state’s Democratic leadership with Polis’ backing in early March, sought to change how the industry is regulated, with more authority given to local control. How exactly that will look remains to be seen.
On Monday, the new head of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), Jeff Robbins, released a draft of the objective criteria for the new bill. The directive is meant to guide officials to determine whether a proposed well or location requires additional analysis to ensure the protection of public health, safety, welfare or the environment.
The criteria will be used to consider whether permits, drilling and spacing unit applications and comprehensive drilling plan applications meet the bill’s mandate, according to Robbins.
The comment period for the objective criteria opened Monday, as residents across the state have the chance to review and voice their thoughts and concerns before the COGCC finalizes them.
West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association Executive Director Eric Carlson stated his disappointment in the short one-week time frame to review the objective criteria and submit comments. Those interested have until 5 p.m. April 29 to submit comments to http://cogcc.state.co.us/comments/default.aspx.
Once the comments are collected, the review will be evaluated by May 16.
The criteria apply to applications for permits to drill, an oil and gas location assessment permit, a request to vent or flare permit, an intent to plug permit and more. It also will apply to pooling applications, drilling and spacing unit applications, and comprehensive drilling plans.
If a permit meets one or more of the objective criteria, it may be subject to additional review.
‘moratorium’ in effect
One position taken by operators and industry advocates since the bill was introduced is that the process essentially put a moratorium on all new oil and natural gas development until the new rules are finalized.
Robbins said in the Monday statement that there is no moratorium.
“All oil and gas permits or projects will not be put on hold and there is not a moratorium on oil and gas permits in Colorado,” according to the statement.
However, Carlson questioned if a delay is much different than a moratorium.
“The legislation does not require the director to delay all final permit determinations until these rules are promulgated,” the objective criteria draft reads.
“Rather, the bill allows the director to delay specific final permit determinations until the director is satisfied that the permit complies with the intent of SB 19-181.”
Garco could be model
With so much uncertainty until the rules become more clear, it may discourage future investment from operators, according to Carlson.
He said he plans to provide input through the objective criteria comment process, as the industry tries to figure out what the final regulations will entail. Carlson added that he remains concerned by the uncertainty.
Robbins visited the Western Slope last week, as one of the presenters at the Energy and Environment Symposium in Rifle.
When asked about the bill’s impact on Garfield County specifically, Robbins told the Glenwood springs Post Independent that Garfield County has historically had good relationships with operators and he didn’t think the bill will make (the county) do things differently.
He added that, while the bill changes the mission of the COGCC and the organization will have to reflect what that means, he hopes to have Garfield County involved in the rule-making process as stakeholders.
Emily Hornback, with Western Colorado Alliance, said the organization plans to comment on the objective criteria and participate in the subsequent rule-making later in the summer.
Leslie Robinson, chairwoman of the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance, a western Colorado group that advocates for greater distances between wells and homes, said she plans to look at the county’s own rules.
In particular, some of the conditions of approval for Ursa Resources’ drilling operations in the Battlement Mesa Planned Unit Development provide a good example for the COGCC to use, she said.
One rule that came to mind for Robinson was the condition of approval to halt all work from dusk to dawn at the gas pads in the PUD.
“I think Garfield County had a lot of influence (when it comes to the new law),” she added.