Locals getting into COGCC’s rulemaking act
RIFLE, Colorado – Local officials and others want to help the state figure out whether, and how, to rewrite portions of its oil and gas drilling regulations, in a process set to wrap up early in 2013.The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission recently issued draft new rules to govern how close drilling rigs can be to occupied buildings, and whether water quality testing should be voluntary or mandatory near drilling rigs.Garfield County is planning to be an active participant in the process, according to Kirby Wynn, the county’s oil and gas liaison official, speaking to the county’s Energy Advisory Board (EAB) on Thursday.The county has applied for “party status” in a rulemaking procedure now under way before the COGCC.As a formal party to the rulemaking procedures, the county will have greater access to the process and a better chance to influence decisions, Wynn said.In addition to the county’s application for party status, EAB member Leslie Robinson said two regional citizens groups – Western Colorado Congress and the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance – have applied.”We’re not happy with the setbacks, as they’re proposed,” Robinson said at the meeting.She explained, in a phone interview on Friday, that WCC has held party status since the last time the COGCC rules were rewritten, in 2008.”We will probably be the lead environmental group on the setbacks,” Robinson explained, adding that the WCC/GVCA representatives also will be commenting on the water monitoring issue.Others seeking party status, according to the COGCC website (cogcc.state.co.us), include Rio Blanco, Weld and LaPlata counties, the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments, the Colorado Petroleum Association and Encana Oil & Gas (USA).Wynn noted that there is an opportunity for the public to address the COGCC, by letter or by attending a hearing.”As Garfield County residents, you can always come to the county and make your desires known” concerning the proposed changes, he told an audience of approximately 20 people at the meeting.
Links to the draft changes to existing rules are prominently posted on the home page of the COGCC website, at the top of the page, and Wynn urged those with an interest in the issue to review the proposed changes.The draft rules for groundwater would require baseline sampling before and after drilling and completion activities, done by the energy industry, to determine if contamination has occurred.Groundwater monitoring is voluntary across the state at present, Wynn said.”Our operators are 100 percent compliant in Garfield County,” he said of the monitoring by gas companies.The draft rules for setbacks, which take up 40 pages on the website, call for a range of distances between drilling rigs and structures under varying circumstances.The proposed rules establish four buffer zones ranging from 350 feet to 1,000 feet between rigs and nearby structures.Currently, he said, setbacks are 150 feet in Garfield County, in most circumstances, or 350 feet in high-density or urban settings. “They’re talking about reshaping these rules in some manner, and right now is when the (COGCC) commissioners need to hear from the public,” Wynn said. The COGCC may decide the rules are sufficient already, and that no changes need to be made, he said.So far there have been months of stakeholder meetings, gathering input from regulators, industry, local governments and other parties. Many of the stakeholders, he said, questioned the need for changes to the rules.
The draft rules were published on Oct. 15, in preparation for meetings in November, December and January at the COGCC offices in Denver.”This is the place where government agencies … and, no doubt, citizens, will vet these rules,” Wynn told the EAB.Wynn will represent Garfield County at the COGCC rulemaking hearings.Scott Brynildson, the EAB member representing Mamm Creek and Hunter Mesa south of Rifle, asked Wynn, “What’s your agenda?””I do not set policy for Garfield County,” Wynn replied.He predicted that the three county commissioners, who also are listed as parties to the process, will determine the county’s position regarding the draft rules at upcoming meetings.In other action at the EAB meeting, Wynn reported:• There currently are nine drilling rigs active in Garfield County – five owned by WPX Energy and four owned by Encana. That’s down from about twice that many a year ago.• Year-to-date applications for permits to drill in Garfield County, which stood at 871 as of Oct. 29, also were down slightly from the same time in 2011. The same is true, he said, of annual well starts, which declined from approximately 630 as of Sept. 20, 2011, to 399 as of the same date this year.• His office had received a dozen complaints in the previous month from citizens about industry activities: five on odor issues, one each on traffic, air pollution, lighting and flaring, and three miscellaneous complaints.
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A report released this month by the Center for Colorado River Studies says that in order to sustainably manage the river in the face of climate change, officials need alternative management paradigms and a different way of thinking compared with the status quo. Estimates about how much water the Upper Colorado River Basin states will use in the future are a problem that needs rethinking, according to the white paper.