Industry fights storm runoff rule
Industry, regulatory and environmental groups are at odds once again over the impacts of oil and gas drilling. Last month, the Colorado Oil and Gas Association filed suit against the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission for requiring the industry to meet new storm-water control standards.Western Colorado environmental groups have joined the fray by filing their own motion in state court supporting the regulation.Natural-gas operators disturbing more than one acre of ground are now required to file a storm-water management plan with the Water Quality Control Division and obtain a discharge permit.”When properly done such mitigation prevents a tremendous amount of sediment from choking our rivers, streams and wetland areas,” said Ken Neubecker, West Slope organizer with Colorado Trout Unlimited.The Grand Valley Citizens Alliance is also behind the move to keep the regulations in place.”Part of our concern with the gas industry is they’re exempt from everything” such as building permits and zoning regulations, said Peggy Utesch, a GVCA member. Land-use regulations imposed by local governments require contractors to protect against soil erosion.”They (the gas industry) just come in and do everything they want. The industry is asking to be exempt (from storm runoff regulations), and it just is not fair,” she added.”The oil and gas industry is arguably the largest single land developer in western Colorado right now,” Neubecker said. “After the wells are drilled and the pumps and pipelines are in place the pad is left alone to the elements. Rain and melting snow move the exposed soil downhill and into the nearest water course.” COGA senior vice president and general counsel Ken Wonstolen said the industry is already well regulated by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.He explained the WQCC took the step of holding gas producers responsible for meeting storm runoff regulations when the Environmental Protection Agency ruled that any ground disturbance over one acre triggered the regulation. Previously the regulations only governed work that disturbed five acres or more, Wonstolen said.The one-acre rule now “catches all oil and gas sites,” he said. “It was a rule they didn’t anticipate would affect oil and gas. They were surprised to find out that it affects virtually every drilling site, which is 30,000 to 50,000 a year.”EPA decided to revisit the rule as it pertains to oil and gas. They’ve also issued an extension to the requirement in drilling permits until July 2006. Although the WQCC staff recommended the state follow suit, the commissioners themselves declined to issue an extension while EPA finishes its study of the matter.”We don’t think that’s a smart way to go,” Wonstolen said. From a legal standpoint, the regulations “are more stringent than federal regulations.” In order to supersede federal rules, the WQCC must have a scientific and technical basis for a stronger regulation.”They don’t have that,” Wonstolen said. “They have done no study, and they do not have the necessary legal ground for it.”Further, COGCC already has rules in place that protect soil and water erosion.”We believe this rule was illegally adopted. … The issue is not that industry is trying to avoid regulation, but that it’s already regulated,” he said.Environmental groups may have “a misperception that this is a big case, that oil and gas should be regulated under this (WQCC) program. But no, it’s a narrow legal case, a jurisdiction issue,” he said.With the complaint filed in Denver District Court, the lawyers for both sides will now file opening briefs outlining their positions. After reading the briefs, the court then may decide to hear oral arguments and issue a decision.Wonstolen said he expects the briefs to be filed the third week in August.Contact Donna Gray: 945-8515, ext. firstname.lastname@example.org
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