Colorado drilling regulators hear from critics at meeting |

Colorado drilling regulators hear from critics at meeting

Kristen Wyatt
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
Routt County attorney John Merrill, foreground, listens with others at a meeting of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission in Denver on Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2012. Groundwater tests could help show whether water has or hasn't been contaminated by drilling. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

DENVER – Colorado drilling regulators got an earful Wednesday from critics who want more say in how gas and oil can be drilled in their jurisdictions.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission was meeting to consider expanded rules for sampling and monitoring of groundwater near new oil and gas wells. The commission also was looking at tougher rules for how close drilling wells can be to buildings such as roads and schools.

No decisions were made, but the meeting turned into something of a public hearing on the overall mood of those affected by drilling.

It was the commission’s first meeting since Longmont residents voted overwhelmingly to ban hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” despite warnings from state officials including Gov. John Hickenlooper that a single statewide drilling regulatory scheme is necessary.

The commission meeting was charged from the start, when eight environmental activists seeking entry were wrongly told the hearing was closed to the public. They eventually were allowed in, but not with their signs decrying fracking as dangerous to the public.

One of the testifiers was Jonnie Westerop, who handed commissioners photos of a playground with wells visible in the background.

“Do you think the citizens are just going to sit back and say that’s fine? … What are we doing to our state? Beautiful Colorado?” she asked.

Most of the testifiers opposed fracking near homes and schools, but some called on the commission to uphold current drilling law.

John Moser, who owns 100 oil and gas wells in northern Colorado, told commissioners that onerous regulations harm the entire state tax base. The Greeley well owner said after his testimony that Colorado must stick with its current regulatory scheme.

“Otherwise you’d have a hodgepodge,” Moser said. “It would be a disaster.”

Commissioners asked few questions during the public testimony. They got a lengthy briefing on proposed new groundwater testing rules, which commission director Matt Lepore said would be the first in the nation to require groundwater sampling at all new drilling locations.

Lepore said he was “confident” that disputes over the groundwater and setback regulations could be resolved in coming weeks. The commission is expected to vote on both sets of rules as soon as next month.