Stakeholders remain critical of proposed oil and gas rules |

Stakeholders remain critical of proposed oil and gas rules

Ryan Hoffman
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

In early October when Colorado’s oil and gas regulators released a draft of two rules aimed at increasing local government involvement in the permitting process, the proposals drew criticism from citizen groups concerned about development, as well as from industry representatives.

Much of that criticism remains as the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission prepares for public hearings Monday and Tuesday on the proposed rules.

Those two rules came from a series of nine recommendations from an oil and gas task force created by Gov. John Hickenlooper to try to resolve disputes between local governments and operators developing oil and gas. The task force was part of a compromise that prevented fracking-related initiatives from appearing on the 2014 ballot.

The two recommendations currently being considered by COGCC — Nos. 17 and 20 — are both aimed at increasing local government participation. More specifically, rule No. 17 deals with the siting of large-scale facilities in urban mitigation areas, while No. 20 requires operators to register with local governments, which can request drilling plans and other documents from the operator.

The first draft of both rules garnered criticism from both sides, with conservationists and citizen groups arguing that the rules did not do enough to address the original task force recommendations, and industry representatives arguing that the rules went beyond those same recommendations.

A second draft of the rules, released Oct. 23, “did not make significant substantive changes,” COGCC Director Matthew Lepore wrote in a cover letter.

Lepore went on to say that further development of issues raised by stakeholders is essential to the process.

Consequently, some of those stakeholders maintain the same concerns previously voiced.

“We kind of feel that the [COGCC] staff chose an easy way out and did not consider a lot of our concerns in the final draft. That’s why we’re continuing to fight,” said Leslie Robinson, president of the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance. (Lepore stated in his letter that COGCC staff does not believe the rules should be adopted as they are.)

Among the issues raised by Robinson’s group — which has partnered with other community organizations, including several in Weld County — is the lack of authority local governments would have in determining the location of drilling operations in close proximity to residents.

Additionally, comments submitted by the partnering groups take issue with the COGCC’s definition of an urban mitigation area — which was defined in a previous rule — as well as the proposed definition of a “large urban mitigation area facility.” Both are intended for the Front Range and not rural parts of the state, argued Robinson.

“Are they saying that rural lives don’t count?” she asked.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA), an industry group, also takes issue with the proposed rules, including the definition of a “large urban mitigation area facility,” but for very different reasons.

While some of the revisions in the second draft are attributed to feedback from the industry, COGA still maintains the rules exceed the original recommendations.

“We still believe the draft dismissed the hard work of the governor’s task force, which spent nine months deliberating and deciding on these recommendations,” Doug Flanders, director of policy and external affairs for COGA, said in a statement.

Comments submitted by COGA and Colorado Petroleum Association (CPA), cover a range of issues in the two rules. The statements request more flexibility when defining a large urban mitigation area facility, and the deletion of clause that could limit the duration of drilling and fracking operations — a move that would invite “numerous legal implications,” according to COGA and CPA — among other changes.

Citizen groups and industry organizations are not the only ones weighing in. On Monday, a group referred to as the Western Slope Governments submitted a prehearing statement that echoed previous claims that the proposed rules were superfluous. The Western Slope group includes Garfield, Mesa, Moffat, Montezuma and Rio Blanco counties, as well as the towns of Parachute and Silt.

“WSG continues to believe this proposed set of rules to be largely unnecessary as the scope of the proposed regulations can be easily implemented at a local level by local governments engaging in effective dialogue with their citizens, operators, adjacent local governments and the (COGCC),” the letter stated.

Many of the comments from all parties will likely resurface Monday, when the COGCC opens a public hearing on the proposed rules in Denver.

Flanders said COG will continue to weigh in as the process continues.

“Our goal is to continue to work with the COGCC to bring the draft rules back into line with what the Governor’s Task Force put forward,” he said.

Meanwhile, Robinson said a group of 15 people are traveling from the Western Slope to Denver for the public hearing.

“We’re going to prove to them Monday and Tuesday that the health and quality of life of the people living on the Western Slope are important,” she said.

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