Oil and gas commission cranks out more controversy
Garfield County correspondent
Summit County, CO Colorado
GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission on Wednesday gave initial approval to a rule that requires oil and gas companies to install new equipment on certain facilities to reduce odors in three counties on the Western Slope.
The new rule would also require many operators to implement green completion practices ” a process that recovers gas that would otherwise be vented or flared during the completion phase of natural gas well.
The rule would additionally require companies to use practices like restricting construction during high-wind days to control fugitive dust.
Harris Sherman, executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources and a commission member, said because of “the tremendous activity in Garfield, Rio Blanco and Mesa counties it made sense to give this rule a chance to work.”
Debate over the odor and dust rule among the oil and gas commissioners dominated a large part of their hearing on Monday. The commission later endorsed it on an unanimous vote.
Commissioners are expected to conduct final votes on new regulations for the state’s oil and gas industry when the commission holds three more hearings in mid-September. During two days of hearings this week, commissioners have tentatively approved 50 oil and gas rules.
“The rules that the commission provisionally approved this week reflect substantial input and proposed language from a variety of parties, including oil and gas companies, local governments, and environmental and citizens’ groups,” said Dave Neslin, acting director of the COGCC.
Meg Collins, president of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, said in a statement released late Wednesday that the preliminary votes taken by the commission are not indicative of a final outcome on any topic.
“As proposed, these rules are unnecessary, costly, foster business uncertainty and go well beyond the intent of the Colorado General Assembly,” she said.
Collins added that industry is hopeful the commission will adopt rules that address “real, documented problems and not adopt (Gov. Bill Ritter’s) narrow, anti-industry political agenda.”
The odor-control rule commissioners tentatively approved Wednesday would require operators in Garfield, Rio Blanco and Mesa counties to install odor-control equipment to reduce volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions, which can pose health hazards.
Targeted facilities are operators’ condensate tanks, water tanks and dehydrators that are located within a quarter-mile of places like homes and schools, and that have the potential to release more than 5 tons or more of VOCs a year.
The rule would also prohibit companies from establishing storage pits that have the potential to release more than five tons of VOCs a year within a quarter-mile of occupied buildings.
Commissioner Joshua Epel, who works for the oil and gas industry, said testimony from previous commission hearings over the odor rule showed the “only county that should be subject” to the odor-control rule is Garfield County.
At a Northwest Colorado Oil and Gas Forum meeting last December, it was reported that during the previous three months there were 23 odor complaints tied to the oil and gas industry in Garfield County. That figure came from complaints submitted to the COGCC and to the county.
The new odor and dust rule is slated to go into effect on Oct. 1 of next year, according to the rules.
Commissioners also approved a rule on Wednesday that would require operators to use best management practices to control storm water runoff from well pads, according to the COGCC.
Although the commission has tentatively approved more than 50 rules during two days of hearings, they have not yet waded into rule language that could lead to 90-day drilling restrictions for companies operating in certain areas on the Western Slope.
Operators can avoid that restriction if they draft comprehensive drilling plans, consult with the Division of Wildlife, limit their density in certain areas or demonstrate that their targeted drilling area has a demonstrated lack of habitat, according to the rules.
The proposed 90-day drilling restriction has generated the most amount of criticism from the state’s oil and gas industry.
Rules commissioners provisionally approved on Tuesday have also been the subject of criticism of the industry. Commissioners gave an initial OK to a rule that would require oil and gas companies to maintain inventories of chemicals used at a well site.
They also endorsed a regulation that would prohibit the building of certain oil and gas facilities of 300 feet for a distance of five miles upstream of a public water supply.
The drafting of new rules for the state’s oil and gas industry is a result of legislation the state Legislature passed last year that required the state to consider public health and wildlife impacts to minimize harm from oil and gas development.
Much of the impetus for the legislation came from a surge in drilling activity across Colorado. In Garfield County alone, the number of drilling permits issued between 2004 and 2007 skyrocketed by 220 percent.
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