RIFLE — Natural gas operators would have 24 hours instead of 10 days to report a spill of one barrel or more of certain fluids that escape containment, under proposed new rules the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation commission will consider Tuesday in Denver.
The change, required after passage of a bill this year by state lawmakers, was explained by Commission Director Mark Lepore at the quarterly Northwest Colorado Oil & Gas Forum on Thursday at Colorado Mountain College in Rifle.
Lepore said the proposal calls for operators to notify the commission, local government and emergency officials and the affected surface owner.
Currently, the commission requires notification if a spill involves exploration and production waste of 5-20 barrels that does not leak beyond secondary contamination control measures, Lepore said.
“So the change is to five barrels within 24 hours,” he added. “Under statute, the commission does not have regulatory authority over other chemicals, unless they go down the hole,” meaning used in the underground drilling process.
The proposed rules would also require operators to document the impacts of a reported spill, and to file a remediation plan, Lepore continued. That plan should be developed in consultation with the surface owner, he said.
“And if an approved remediation is felt to be unfairly delayed by the surface owner, we win,” Lepore added. The operator would then proceed with the approved remediation plan, he said.
Secondary containment measures are required on all oil and gas facilities that handle exploration and production waste, Lepore said, and are defined as measures that “significantly improve” the ability to contain spills.
After the meeting, Lepore said penalties for companies that fail to report a spill will remain the same: up to $1,000 a day per violation, but that he was not sure how many violations had occurred in recent years.
“This is something we want everyone to know we take seriously,” Lepore said. “We want everyone to be in the information loop when these occur.”
Lepore said the commission could adopt the proposed rules on Tuesday, after listening to testimony from parties to the hearing, including the city of Rifle, Garfield County, industry and environmental groups. Lepore expected the new rules to take affect in mid-January or early February.
“I wouldn’t say this is a major change, but it is significant,” Lepore summarized.
Also at the forum:
• Oil and Gas Commission Engineering Supervisor David Andrews presented facts and figures on oil and gas activity in the state, which shows production at record highs for both fuels. Most new drilling permits have been for wells in the D.J. Basin, northeast of Denver, he said. Through Dec. 3, Garfield County had 748 permits issued, second in the state but far behind Weld County’s 2,271 permits. Rio Blanco County had 152 permits and Mesa County 104 permits.
Andrews also noted that while the number of active drilling rigs typically declines in winter months, “We do have many more than this time last year.”
There are a dozen rigs active in Garfield County, said county Oil and Gas Liaison Kirby Wynn, and the county had seen 323 wells drilled through Oct. 12, compared to 498 wells drilled in 2012.
• Operators reported their recent activity: Marathon Oil had no wells drilled; Berry Petroleum Co., which is close to merging with Lynn Energy, plans to have one or two rigs for each of the next three or four years; Ursa Resources drilled nine wells southeast of Silt and plans to drill 13 outside Battlement Mesa; WPX Energy had seven rigs operating and will have drilled 200 wells this year by the end of the year, with seven rigs again planned to be operating in 2014; Williams continues to sample water from Parachute Creek, where a fluid spill contaminated the creek earlier this year, and has found no trace of benzene since August; Chevron had not drilled any new wells in the Rangely area; Encana had four rigs in operation; and Piceance Energy does not plan to drill any wells in either the Beaver Creek watershed south of Rifle or Plateau Valley in Mesa County until perhaps the third quarter of next year.