Panel issues review of Colorado rules on fracking
November 8, 2011
DENVER – An independent panel has recommended tightening some of Colorado’s rules on hydraulic fracturing, a technique for extracting oil and natural gas that has drawn scrutiny from residents concerned by drilling expanding into more urban areas.However, the State Review of Oil & Natural Gas Environmental Regulations did commend a Colorado rule that requires companies to tell regulators and health officials what chemicals have been used in the process known as fracking, if problems arise.The conclusions from the panel came as the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission moves on its own to adopt rules for more public disclosures about fracking fluids.The commission previously volunteered for the review of its rules by the independent panel whose board includes regulatory, environmental and industry members. The panel praised some of Colorado’s regulations but also made suggestions in a report released in late October.The commission plans to meet with companies and other stakeholders in the coming weeks to discuss the recommendations.”Overall it’s a positive report,” commission Director David Neslin said Monday.In response to the report, the commission is working with the state division of water resources to evaluate the availability of water for hydraulic fracturing, Neslin said, and the commission and the health department are gauging levels of naturally occurring radioactive materials in waste associated with fracking.The review panel also suggested working with stakeholders to review how depths are determined for protecting wells from groundwater and whether to establish a maximum depth.In September, commission staff members said a standard maximum would not be practical in Colorado given the varying topography in the state. Commission engineers now establish depths on a case-by-case basis.The review also recommended requiring drillers to include details of fracking fluids on forms filed with the state when wells are completed.The group commended Colorado for overhauling its rules in 2008 to address current hydraulic fracturing practices. In particular, it praised a rule requiring well operators to disclose the fracking chemicals they use to state or health officials upon request. However some residents have pushed for public disclosure as interest grows in drilling under more populated areas over the Niobrara shale formation.The oil and gas commission is holding a rulemaking hearing next month to look at adopting rules for public disclosure. Some companies already make voluntary disclosures at http://www.fracfocus.org.The conservation group Western Resource Advocates said the review didn’t address requirements for how far drilling rigs must be from homes.Neslin said that outside of Weld County, about 93 percent of wells proposed in the state over the last two years are at least 1,000 feet from the closest building. That figure is closer to 70 percent in Weld County, a hot spot for drilling.Neslin said commissioners could decide to revise setback rules, but that would be up to them.