Our View: Oil, gas rules to live by — for now

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Editorial Board, January to May 2013

  • Scott Stanford, general manager
  • Brent Boyer, editor
  • Tom Ross, reporter
  • Randy Rudasics, community representative
  • John Centner, community representative

Contact the editorial board at 970-871-4221 or editor@SteamboatToday.com. Would you like to be a member of the board? Fill out a letter of interest now.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission’s new rules for energy drilling represent progress in the contentious debate between encouraging domestic oil production and protecting the environment and health of Colorado residents, but those rules fall short of addressing the more significant battle being waged between state and local governments.

Until there is resolution — likely in the form of a court ruling — regarding who has the ultimate jurisdiction to regulate the energy industry and its oil and gas exploration projects in counties and cities across Colorado, the new rules approved by the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission will be of debatable consequence. That’s because local governments, including Routt County’s, will continue to place their own conditions on oil and gas drilling using the argument that they ultimately are responsible for protecting the environment, health and public safety of the land and residents within their borders.

While we’ve supported the Routt County Board of Commissioners’ stance to date on oil and gas exploration here, we also recognize the significance of the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission’s new rules. Resulting from a special rule-making process that stemmed from growing unrest in many areas of the state about what some perceive to be a lack of strong state regulations and the resources to monitor and enforce them, the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission approved several noteworthy changes to existing rules. That’s a big step for an agency viewed as too pro-industry by many with an interest in the growth of the energy industry in Colorado.

One of the new rules involves setbacks, the mandatory minimum distance between a drilling site and occupied commercial or residential buildings. The old regulations stipulated setbacks of 150 feet in rural areas and 350 feet in urban areas. The new regulation calls for a blanket setback of 500 feet. It falls short of the 1,000 feet urged by environmentalists, but it exceeds the setback pushed by the industry as well as farmers and homebuilders, among others.

A second rule change of particular interest locally involves groundwater-quality monitoring, which has been a point of contention between the Board of Commissioners and Quicksilver Resources here in Routt County. For the first time, the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is poised to require energy operators to test groundwater quality before and after drilling operations. Colorado would be the first state in the country to mandate such testing, but it still doesn’t go as far as some communities and environmentalists would like. For that matter, the industry is none too happy with the rule, either.

There always will be discord between energy companies and environmentalists regarding drilling operations and their impact on air and water quality as well as public health. And as we’ve seen locally, there’s also concern from property rights owners about their ability to capitalize on the potentially lucrative minerals beneath their land. The most recent rule-making process undertaken by the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission certainly doesn’t eliminate the discord, but it does move the state’s regulatory agency toward a better balance of acknowledging public sentiment and concerns while still encouraging responsible energy development.

Comments

Steve Lewis 1 year, 6 months ago

Submitted to the COGCC in this matter, by Shell Oil:

"Shell supports the COGCC’s efforts to craft and implement a mandatory groundwater testing program statewide. However, Shell has concerns that the draft rule on this issue fails to meet Shell’s global onshore operating principles regarding the testing of potable water sources to determine whether changes have occurred both before and after oil and gas operations.

Shell supports strengthening statewide testing requirements regarding (1) the types of water sources required to be sampled, (2) the number and location of water sources required to be sampled, (3) the time periods for baseline and post-completion testing, (4) the sampling and analysis procedures, and (5) consistent testing requirements and procedures."

http://cogcc.state.co.us/RR_HF2012/Groundwater/PrehearingStatements/Shell%20pre-hearing%20statement.pdf

The COGGC has a major industry player saying, in effect - This State's rules to protect water quality fall short. This State's standards are below those of our corporation.

While I agree with the text of the Pilot editorial, strongly I disagree with the title. The State's rules are not rules to live by. We cannot afford to settle for that low standard. Routt County should do better. Much better.

Nancy Stahoviak set a similar high bar in this regard, correctly going much farther than COGCC standards during her term. She was willing to fight the lesser oil companies to protect our water. This Tuesday at 5pm with Quicksilver Resources, our new commissioners should keep her high standards intact for Routt County.

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