COGCC head sees opportunity for stronger local partnerships
The man heading up the oil and gas rulemaking process in Colorado says he intends to develop a working relationship with Garfield County and other Western Slope governments as those rules play out.
Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission Director Jeff Robbins said Thursday that whether local elected officials decide to act on new local authority over the siting of wells and other matters related to oil and gas development provided under Senate Bill 181, the COGCC should be seen as a partner.
Robbins was in Glenwood Springs for the COGCC rulemaking hearing Wednesday and touring Garfield County oil and gas facilities Thursday along with the commission members.
“We are hearing clearly from local governments here that they want us to take a West Slope look at how oil and gas is developed … and the field tour was a chance to look at the distinctions between West Slope and Front Range development,” Robbins said.
SB 181, signed into law by Gov. Jared Polis in April, grants new authority to local governments to conduct an alternative site analysis whenever an oil and gas operator proposes a particular site. But it’s driven by local government how they might decide to implement that authority, Robbins said.
“What I and the commission are trying to create is a collaborative approach where we can look at that together with local governments,” he said. “We can bring some of the science and expertise we have at the state agency to assist local governments in that.”
However, opinions differ on the Western Slope, where county commissions, including in Garfield County, are less inclined to consider more local regulations, but where some industry critics would just as soon have the state implement those new rules.
“We’ve heard from elected officials and operators that there are a lot of distinctions … and that there ought to be rules and regulations that are West Slope centric,” Robbins said. “And, we’re also hearing from neighborhood and environmental groups that there really aren’t a lot of distinctions, and that the issues around health, safety and welfare that exist on the Front Range are the same issues that exist on the West Slope.”
It’s up to the COGCC to determine what distinctions warrant a different, regional approach, and what common health, safety, welfare and environmental concerns are more universal.
SB181 changed the mission of the COGCC from that of “fostering” oil and gas development to one of regulating development in a way that protects the public health, safety and welfare, as well as the environment and wildlife resources.
Robbins acknowledged the drilling permit approval process was put on pause after the new law was passed, in an effort to make the shift to that new directive.
“Those permits are now efficiently being approved in a manner that is protective of health, safety and welfare, and of the environment,” he said.
The Wednesday rulemaking hearing in Glenwood Springs was part of a four-tiered rulemaking process tied to SB181 and its directives that will continue through July of next year. Those four tiers include:
• Establishing new rules and regulations around mission change.
• Evaluating, analyzing and addressing the potential cumulative impacts from oil and gas operations, rather than on a well site to well site basis.
• Coming up with rules that establish an alternative site analysis in concert with local governments, if they choose, so that multiple sites can be considered rather than working to mitigate a pre-selected site.
• Reevaluating the oil and gas flowline rules that were put in place after the fatal 2017 gas line explosion near Firestone.
Any local controls that might be implemented through that rulemaking process would be up to local municipal and county governments to decide, Robbins stressed.
“I do think we’re going to have a productive, good working relationship with Garfield County and the West Slope local governments to try to understand their issues, and the commission is cognizant of and receptive to all the voices we’re hearing,” he said.
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