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State Panel Scales Back Proposed Drilling Rules Changes Occur After Oil and Gas Industry Launches Offensive

June 19, 2008

By Gargi Chakrabarty

Gov. Bill Ritter’s administration on Wednesday watered down proposed rules for oil and gas drilling in Colorado in the wake of an aggressive campaign by the industry that said the proposals would cost thousands of jobs.

Clarifications of the proposed rules were posted late afternoon on the Web site of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, the state agency charged with rewriting the regulations. The commission will hold hearings Monday through July 1, and a decision is scheduled Aug. 12.

“I wouldn’t view (the clarifications) that way,” said COGCC acting Director David Neslin, referring to suggestions the agency was weakening rules under pressure from the industry.

“In some instances, we are taking a more surgical, a more nuanced approach to a particular issue,” he said. “We are putting forth language that better reflects our intent and provides additional time for discussions of wildlife impact mitigation to occur.”

Two influential industry groups – the Colorado Oil and Gas Association and the Colorado Petroleum Association – on Monday launched a weeklong advertising campaign to denounce the proposed rules, saying they would displace 10,714 jobs.

Meg Collins, president of COGA, said the revisions do little to assuage the industry’s concerns.

“We’ll take a look at it but I doubt our concerns will change much,” Collins said. “And I really am not at all clear as to what process will be used by the oil and gas commission to incorporate these clarifications in the docketed draft rules of March 31.”

For instance, the commission clarified that companies that consult with the Colorado Division of Wildlife or develop a comprehensive drilling plan would not be subject to timing restrictions until January 2010.

Currently, the restrictions prohibit drilling during certain times of the year, say, from Jan. 1 through March 31 and in certain areas west of Interstate 25 to protect winter concentration areas of pronghorns. Shorter time restrictions apply to other species, such as May 15 through June 15 for elk production areas.

Collins criticized the clarification, saying even if companies consult with the Division of Wildlife, it was not guaranteed that they would receive waivers.

“The clarification is just delaying the 90-day shutdown in activity to 2010 from 2008-2009,” Collins said. “It’s just moving forward whatever the complications we see from such shutdowns – economic displacements, job losses and a slowdown in the industry.”

Suzanne O’Neill, executive director of the Colorado Wildlife Federation, also expressed concern about the clarification, but from a different perspective.

“What would happen in the interim period, what sort of protection would be available to balance wildlife with density of wells?” O’Neill posed. “We are concerned because we have to assume the current pace of drilling applications would continue until January 2010.”

Few expect the clarifications to result in any thawing of relations between the commission and the industry.

“I think it’s a first step in having a conversation,” said Rick Ridder, a Democratic political strategist. “But I have no sense where that conversation is going to go.”

Proposed rule changes

State regulators on Wednesday scaled back draft rules for oil and gas drilling, rules that the industry opposes.

Draft rule

* Oil and gas operations must be located at least 500 feet from a spring, water well, or section of stream used for a public water supply.

* Restrict drilling during certain times of the year to

protect wildlife habitats, but operators can bypass by consulting with the state Division of Wildlife, developing comprehensive drilling plans, or restricting development.

* Avoid drilling in areas within 300 feet of the ordinary high water mark of any reservoir, lake, wetland, or natural perennial or seasonally flowing stream or river.

* Require companies to use scientific surveys near drilling

areas coinciding with the season and activity of certain species.

* Require all condensate tanks in Piceance and San Juan

basins emitting a certain amount of pollution and within a half- mile of a school, hospital, home or jail to install odor control devices.

Change

* Reduces setback to 300 feet for perennial streams and 150 feet for seasonal or intermittent streams used for drinking water. An interim buffer zone would be created between that distance and 500 feet where additional conditions will apply. * Restrict drilling during certain times of the year to protect wildlife habitats, but operators can bypass by consulting with the state Division of Wildlife, developing comprehensive drilling plans, or restricting development.

* Companies choosing to pursue consultation with state wildlife officials or a comprehensive drilling plan will not be subject to certain restrictions until January 2010.

* Avoid drilling in areas within 300 feet of the ordinary high water mark of any reservoir, lake, wetland, or natural perennial or seasonally flowing stream or river.

* Applies only within 300 feet of designated cutthroat trout segments of streams and gold- medal fishing streams.

* Require companies to use scientific surveys near drilling areas coinciding with the season and activity of certain species.

* Surveys can be conducted at any time of the year and are required for a narrower range of species.

* Require all condensate tanks in Piceance and San Juan basins emitting a certain amount of pollution and within a half-mile of a school, hospital, home or jail to install odor control devices.

* Requirement limited to the Piceance Basin.

Source: Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission

INFOBOX

Public comment

* The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission will hold a hearing to take public comment on proposed rules for oil and gas drilling from 8 a.m. to noon Monday at the Paramount Theater, 1631 Glen arm Place.

Originally published by Gargi Chakrabarty, Rocky Mountain News.

(c) 2008 Rocky Mountain News. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.




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