Environmental drilling restriction removed | AspenTimes.com

Environmental drilling restriction removed

Phillip Yates
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen CO, Colorado

DENVER ” A proposed rule that may have restricted drilling for 90 days in wildlife areas in western areas of the state has been dropped from the state’s final recommendation for new rules for the state’s oil and gas industry.

Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) staff recommended the elimination of the proposed timing restriction stipulation. However, COGCC commissioners could vote against accepting the staff recommendation.

Under proposed language by COGCC staff earlier this year, operators could have avoided the 90-day drilling restriction in certain wildlife areas if they drafted comprehensive drilling plans, consulted with the Division of Wildlife, limited their density in certain areas or demonstrated that their targeted drilling area had a demonstrated lack of habitat.

David Neslin, COGCC acting director, said staff was trying to come up with a process to attract the broadest support by deleting the rule.

Randy Hampton, a spokesman for the Division of Wildlife, said the agency made a recommendation for a timing restrictions in certain wildlife areas of the state because “we know the benefit those restrictions have, specifically where they are already used on federal lands.”

“The process right now is a COGCC process,” Hampton said of the ongoing rule-making. “We are going to work with what they put together.”

COGCC Commissioner Tresi Houpt declined to talk about the elimination of the rule because agency commissioners are set to deliberate several proposed rules Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

Last month, COGCC commissioners gave tentative approval to about 50 rules, including a controversial one that requires companies to identify the chemicals used at a well site. Companies consider the chemicals they use in the drilling process as a trade secret.

The proposed drilling restriction engendered the most amount of controversy during the COGCC’s rule-making process. The state began crafting new rules for oil and gas development because of legislation the state legislature passed last year.

About 2,000 industry workers turned out for a public hearing about proposed rules for the state’s oil and gas industry in early June in Grand Junction. The vast majority of speakers at that meeting blasted that specific rule.

But several environmental groups supported it. The focus of the rule was the Piceance Basin, scene of a drilling boom and home to large populations of deer, elk and sage grouse.

Doug Hock, a spokesman for EnCana Oil and Gas (USA), said while the 90-day drilling “moratorium” may have been deleted, a company review of COGCC’s final staff recommendations indicates that restriction may have just been reshuffled to another rule section.

The rules indicate that the Colorado Division of Wildlife can still recommend timing limitations as a result of consultation with companies, but that they won’t apply automatically.

“If the restrictions remain there, that remains a problem,” he said.

Hock said while that timing restriction may still remain an issue, the company feels the commission has taken industry’s concerns on some rules.

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