Colorado regulators approve drilling buffers, other rules |

Colorado regulators approve drilling buffers, other rules

In this November 2015 photo taken near the grounds of the historic Battlement Mesa Schoolhouse, a drilling rig sits behind sound walls near a residential property.
Post Independent file

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (AP) — The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has provided preliminary approval for new regulations for well drilling sites, including a 2,000-foot buffer requirement from homes.

The five-member panel is not expected to undertake a final vote on the measures until November to allow for some revisions, The Daily Sentinel reported.

The new regulations are expected to take effect Jan. 1.

The measures approved Monday represent the first regulations aimed at a new law requiring the commission to prioritize public health, safety, welfare, the environment and wildlife over oil and gas development.

The measures include adopting requirements for analyzing alternative locations for oil and gas facilities, widening who has legal standing to participate in commission hearings, adding language intended to consider those disproportionately impacted and providing increased collaboration between state and local governments in oil and gas regulations.

Commission Chair Jeff Robbins said Monday that there was a lot of consensus regarding the approved regulations, except on the larger setbacks.

The setbacks are significantly larger than those proposed by commission staff, which recommended a 500-foot minimum setback from homes.

Homeowners, community and environmental activists and some elected officials argued that a greater distance was needed to protect the public. But other industry entities argued it could make oil and gas inaccessible to development.

“We … believe that we’ve created sufficient off-ramps so that minerals will continue to be developed within the state of Colorado,” Robbins said.

West Slope Oil and Gas Association Executive Director Chelsie Miera said those off-ramps don’t offer a clear path for getting a permit and said the setbacks in effect will be even greater — up to 2,400 feet — because they will be measured from a well pad’s edge rather than from the wells.

Garfield County commissioners, in a letter to Gov. Jared Polis last week that was copied to COGCC members, objected to the 2,000-foot setback, saying it would “blunt” any chance at economic recovery and jobs lost as a result of the COVID-19 shutdowns.

“This proposal stands in stark contrast to scientific objectivity, and undermines Colorado’s proud democratic process, which just two years ago saw voters reject a similar setback proposal by a double-digit margin,” the commissioners’ letter stated, referencing the defeat of Proposition 112 which called for a 2,500-foot setback.

Leslie Robinson, chair of the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance in Garfield County, welcomed the approvals saying that they have worked hard to get regulation improvements that protect nearby residents.

The Western Colorado Alliance (WCA), based in Grand Junction, also applauded the new setback rules.

“We know these rules will better  protect residents from the negative impacts of oil and gas development while still giving operators ample room to conduct business in Western Colorado,” WCA said in a Monday statement. “The mandate of SB 181 is to ensure the COGCC protects the health and safety of all Coloradans first in oil and gas permitting decisions, and we thank the Commissioners for honoring that mandate.”

Glenwood Springs Post Independent staff contributed to this report.

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