COGCC decisions on waste pits, protection of wildlife areas deferred until late September |

COGCC decisions on waste pits, protection of wildlife areas deferred until late September

Phillip Yates
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado ” The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) has deferred deliberation of controversial rules surrounding waste pits and protection of sensitive wildlife areas until later this month.

The commission on Tuesday voted unanimously to deliberate those rules during regularly scheduled commission hearings on Sept. 22 and Sept. 23.

COGCC commissioners began their second round of deliberating rules for the state’s oil and gas industry on Tuesday. They are expected to meet again on Wednesday and Thursday.

Last month, the commission tentatively approved about 50 new rules, including regulations that would prohibit the building of an oil and gas facility within 300 feet of a public water supply, along with mandating disclosure of chemicals used at the drilling site.

Tuesday’s hearing immediately began with a motion by the Colorado Petroleum Association, along with three oil and gas companies, for the commission to postpone hearings this week because of a large amount of documents associated with staff recommendations on pits and wildlife rules, which were were released late last week.

Tom Dugan, an attorney representing the oil and gas industry, argued that the release of those documents didn’t give the industry enough time to review them before Tuesday’s hearing. He said the COGCC’s schedule for the hearings had the “appearance that well-considered input from industry is not that important.”

He added that if the commission could consider deferring deliberation of the wildlife and pit rules that “would be most helpful.”

Michael Freeman, who represented wildlife and environmental groups at the Tuesday hearing, voiced strong opposition to the industry’s motion.

“We strongly object to any delays,” Freeman said. “At every step, they have sought to delay this rule-making proceeding.”

Freeman said much of the documentation included in the staff’s recommendations were reprints from earlier drafts. He said there were no new concepts revealed in those recommendations.

Dave Neslin, acting director of the COGCC, said complaints that the process has been unfair to anyone were unfounded. He said there has been “superabundance” of industry involvement in the rule-making process.

But he added that he understood the wildlife and pit rules were controversial and recommended that commissioners delay consideration of those proposed regulations for two weeks so that they could review the rules further.

COGCC commissioner Tresi Houpt, who is also a Garfield County commissioner, said she was glad everyone at Tuesday’s hearing “was sitting down” because she agreed with the industry to defer deliberation of the wildlife and pit rules.

“I think Director Neslin’s recommendation of postponing the discussion and giving everyone a greater opportunity to look at the materials might be a responsible way to go,” Houpt said.

After the hearing, Houpt said she didn’t want to receive new information.

“I want time to analyze the information I have received,” she said.

Houpt said if the commission pushed through with all the rules this week, it wouldn’t be able to do its “best work.”

The commissioners will consider a provision within the wildlife rules that would require an oil and gas company operating in a sensitive wildlife habitat to consult with the Colorado Division of Wildlife, the surface owner and the COGCC director before a permit may be approved to identify “possible conditions of approval.”

Conditions of approval would be guided by specific best-management practices, which include demonstrating that any drilling would “promote the use of existing facilities and reduction of new surface disturbances.”

However, one of the most controversial wildlife rules the COGCC had contemplated, which would have restricted drilling in certain wildlife areas of western Colorado for 90 days, has been dropped from final staff recommendations. Commissioners can still decide to implement that rule.

Steve Torbit, regional executive director for the National Wildlife Federation, said that the final staff recommendations for wildlife rules shows the COGCC bent “over backwards for industry” and just “left crumbs for wildlife.”

“We may not have enough crumbs to ensure wildlife in the oil and gas areas,” Torbit said.

Commissioners are expected to meet again at 8 a.m. this morning to deliberate again.

Contact Phillip Yates: 384-9117

Post Independent, Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO

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