Colorado regulators start debating new oil, gas rules
August 20, 2008
DENVER ” Rules being debated by Colorado regulators would require oil and gas companies to list the chemicals they use at well sites and stay out of buffer zones around drinking water supplies.
The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission on Tuesday began deliberating a comprehensive update of state regulations in the face of record energy development. Commissioners were scheduled to continue considering the new rules Wednesday.
Final votes and discussions on ways to minimize the effects of energy development on wildlife are set for more meetings Sept. 9-11.
More than 100 pages of proposed rules would implement laws passed last year to give more weight to concerns about the environment, wildlife and public health and safety when approving oil and gas development.
Proponents say updated regulations are long overdue, considering the rate of drilling, which is mostly for natural gas. Colorado issued a record 6,368 drilling permits last year ” six times the 1999 total ” and at least 7,000 permits likely will be approved this year.
Environmentalists and some elected officials have argued for tougher protections.
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“But we feel the staff is doing a pretty good job considering what has to be covered,” said Bruce Baizel, staff attorney for the Durango-based Oil and Gas Accountability Project.
Industry representatives have argued the state is rushing through sweeping changes that could undermine an industry that generates billions of dollars in economic benefits and thousands of jobs for Colorado. The Colorado Oil and Gas Association, a trade group, has criticized the process, saying draft rules should have been released before, not after, work sessions were held on technical issues.
Meg Collins, the trade group’s president, said the commission hasn’t discussed alternative proposals submitted by several companies.
“We were hopeful that the COGCC commissioners would focus on the mounds of scientific data, balanced motions and carefully crafted alternatives pending before them. However, that didn’t happen, which should infuriate the people of Colorado,” Collins said in a written statement Tuesday.
Using straw votes, the commissioners endorsed provisions requiring companies to keep an inventory of chemicals used at well sites and to stay out of a 300-foot buffer zone around drinking water supplies unless they obtain exemptions.
Companies would have to keep on hand an inventory of chemicals in volumes of more than 500 pounds. Some of that information is on safety sheets at well sites, but companies consider the mixtures of chemicals they use to be trade secrets.
Cathy Behr, an emergency room nurse, has said she became ill last spring after taking care of a gas-field worker who went to a Durango hospital after being exposed to chemicals. She said her primary care doctor has been told he can have information on the materials in the drilling fluids, but must agree to keep it confidential.
The commission also tentatively approved a 300-foot buffer zone around community water supplies. The staff originally recommended a 500-foot buffer zone, which some communities preferred.
The oil and gas commission staff unveiled the preliminary proposals in January during five public meetings across the state. Representatives from the oil and gas industry, environmental groups, local governments and state agencies attended dozens of meetings on specific issues in February and the draft rules were released in March.