Decision on Colorado gas drilling rules expected |

Decision on Colorado gas drilling rules expected

Phillip YatesGlenwood Springs correspondentAspen CO, Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is expected to decide Thursday on motions seeking to limit the scope of its rule-making process for the states oil and gas industry. Those motions also included a request for the commission to spread its rule-making out over time.The Garfield County commissioners have supported motions filed by the Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA) and others for the states oil and gas commissioners to make a decision on some rules during its current rule-making process and to rule on other regulations at a later time. COGA filed its motion because it says there isnt enough time to analyze the proposed rules and that state officials have gone beyond the legislative intent that created the new oil and gas rules, according to COGAs motion. The state Oil and Gas Commission is looking to adopt its new rules by mid-July.Williams Production RMT and EnCana Oil & Gas (USA), two of the largest natural gas operators in Garfield County, filed documents in support of COGAs motion. Can the commissioners possibly give commensurate consideration to all of the issues contained in this proceeding in the time allotted? wrote attorney Kenneth Wonstolen in COGAs motion. He also wrote that the last rule-making process for the states oil and gas industry took about six years to complete.The state is drafting new rules because of passage of house bills 1298 and 1341 last year. Those bills required that the Oil and Gas Commission expand its focus to consider public health and wildlife impacts, and require the use of best management practices to minimize harm from oil and gas development. The agency released a set of draft rules March 31. They immediately drew criticism from the energy industry in Colorado.The Colorado Environmental Coalition (CEC) filed an objection to COGAs motion, saying the trade group is asking the Oil and Gas Commission to drop from the current rule-making many of the proposed rules that would increase substantive protections for public health, the environment and public safety. The groups response also said the state Legislatures passage of HB 1379, which extended the July 1 deadline to finalize the new rules, undercuts COGAs argument that scope of the draft rules is inconsistent with the Legislatures intent in passing 1298 and 1341.The CEC also said that the state has done an exemplary job of involving the public and stakeholders in the development of the rules.Garfield County commissioners John Martin and Larry McCown have supported COGAs motion to limit the scope of some of the proposed rules and to have the rule-making spread out over time. Commissioner Trsi Houpt has not participated in drafting the countys position on the new oil and gas rules because of her role as a Oil and Gas Commission member.Garfield County commissioners are worried that the fiscal impacts for the state and county from the proposed rules arent fully understood. They are also worried that 90-day drilling restrictions in areas of Garfield County could hamper economic activity because high-efficiency rigs used to drill several wells in the area may go elsewhere.That fear has also led commissioners to say that the proposed rules could reduce the use of directional drilling in the county. Any reduction in the ability to conduct directional drilling within Garfield County will have significant impacts upon air quality, water quality, road safety, aesthetic values and agricultural development in the (county), according to a pre-hearing statement the county commissioners submitted to the Oil and Gas Commission.Many gas companies use directional drilling, which allows drills to be aimed at an angle to penetrate the underlying rock formations, enabling multiple wells to be drilled from one well pad. Energy companies say directional drilling can help mitigate surface-environmental and wildlife disturbances, which drilling operations can have in northwest Colorado.