Fresh off some recent rulemaking, Colorado’s oil and gas regulatory agency is turning its attention to one of the most persistent complaints from people living near extraction operations: noise.
The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is in the process of gathering technical data from state health experts, industry officials and third party consultants regarding noise, its health impacts and mitigation measures, said Dave Kulmann, COGCC deputy director.
Since discussions are still in the early stages, no date is set for when formal rulemaking might start, although it will likely be some time late in 2016. Kulmann said the agency wants to gather the technical data before speculating on which specific aspects of the current regulations might be beefed up, but it is clear, he said, that noise is an issue.
In 2015, after implementing a new complaint process on Jan. 9 of that year, the COGCC received a total of 330 complaints on issues ranging from odors to traffic problems to property damage, according to a detailed complaint report compiled by COGCC. Of the total complaints, 123 were due to noise.
Although COGCC has studied the issue for the past year, the data on 2015 complaints helped solidify noise as one of the biggest issues as far as oil and gas operations, particularly those in close proximity to nearby homes and other occupied buildings, Kulmann said.
That internal recognition makes this expected rulemaking different than the round completed by the commission in January. That rulemaking stemmed from recommendations suggested by Gov. John Hickenlooper’s Oil and Gas Task Force. Hickenlooper created the task force in 2014 as part of a compromise that kept a slew of oil and gas initiatives from appearing on the ballot that year.
Those rules, which were criticized throughout the process by both industry and citizen groups opposed to drilling near residential areas, dealt with local governments’ role in siting large-scale oil and gas facilities in “urban mitigation areas.”
That outcome is causing some reservations regarding the early efforts to address noise. News that COGCC is looking at noise, which persists as a leading issue for those living near oil and gas operations, is encouraging, said Dave Devanney, chair of Battlement Concerned Citizens, a citizen group that advocates for distance between operations and homes in the unincorporated western Garfield County community.
Noise, he said, is one of the obvious negative impacts that leads to the belief that oil and gas operations are not compatible with residential areas. However, Devanney worries any rulemaking will lead down a familiar road that ends in unsatisfactory results.
“Based on previous rulemaking, I guess I’m not overly optimistic that we’re going to see a large change in the rules,” he added.
Without going into specifics, Kulmann said the current regulations regarding C-weighted noise, lower-frequency sound, is one aspect being looked at.
Current COGCC rules state that in situations where an inspection indicates low frequency noise as an issue, a new measurement using the C scale should be taken 25 feet from the occupied structure closest to the noise source. If that measurement comes in above 65 decibels(C) then COGCC will require the operator to commission an analysis for low frequency noise by a qualified expert. The analysis should identify reasonable mitigation measures. The study will be provided to COGCC for consideration and possible action.
Kulmann said COGCC is getting close to completing its roundup of technical data. From there, the agency will start considering alterations to the existing regulations.
“It’s been an interesting process ... and I think the COGCC is making the right move by gathering technical data and bringing in a lot of outside expertise,” he said.