More wildlife rules get tentative OK from Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission |

More wildlife rules get tentative OK from Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission

Phillip Yates
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado ” The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission on Tuesday tentatively approved a series of wildlife rules for the state’s oil and gas industry.

The entire set of wildlife rules, which had been the focus of immense controversy during the state’s current rule-making process for the oil and gas industry, passed on an 8-1 vote Tuesday.

The commission also began preliminary deliberation on pit and waste rules on Tuesday. Commissioners are expected to review those rules again in late October.

Once that is done, they could be in a position to possibly make a final decision on the rules they have tentatively approved in early December. During seven hearings in August and September, commissioners have initially endorsed about 87 rules for the state’s oil and gas industry.

One of the most contentious wildlife rules the commission deliberated on Tuesday would require companies to avoid certain activities like construction, drilling and completion, and laying of pipeline in “restricted surface occupancy” (RSO) areas.

Those areas would be where bighorn sheep reproduce and bald eagles nest. It would also encompass areas within 300 feet of any stream that is home to Colorado cutthroat trout or 300 feet within any stream or lake designated by the DOW as “gold medal.”

Companies could avoid the RSO rule if they work with the COGCC director, demonstrate that wildlife is not present in the targeted drilling area, gain an exemption from the DOW or develop a comprehensive drilling plan for the area. Companies could also possibly avoid it if they show that it’s not technically or economically feasible to comply with the rule.

That RSO rule received the tentative endorsement of the commission on a 5-4 vote.

Commissioner Tom Compton said much of his opposition to the RSO rule was focused around the possible impact to surface owners.

“I do believe we are treading on thin ice relative to property rights,” Compton said.

Commissioner Mark Cutright said he thought the RSO rule was not the “right solution.”

“I am not saying species don’t need protection,” Cutright said. “I just see that this is fraught with problems.”

Commissioner Harris Sherman said legislation passed last year, which led to the current rule-making process, gave the COGCC the “latitude” to approve the RSO rule.

“I do think it is a balancing act,” he said. “The species that are being protected under this act are very important species. If we are not vigilant in how we protect them, we could have some serious problems down the road.”

Sherman added if the RSO rule creates problematic situations with landowner rights, the commission will have to review it at a later time.

As the debate progressed, Cutright wondered if the RSO rule could be considered a “taking” of one’s property.

Dave Neslin, acting director of the COGCC, responded that the RSO rule only requires that the area be avoided if it is “technically or economically feasible to do so.”

“I would suggest, almost by definition, that would not constitute a taking of someone’s property,” Neslin said.

The commission on Tuesday also unanimously approved a rule that would require operators to follow certain requirements if they are operating in sensitive wildlife habitats of Colorado, which include locations that provide winter range for elk, mule deer and bighorn sheep.

That rule would require companies inform and educate employees to not harass or feed animals, consolidate new facilities to minimize harm to wildlife and implement standards to reduce traffic associated with transporting water through the use of pipelines or tanks, where it is technically feasible and economically practicable.

Earlier this week the commission gave an initial thumbs up to a rule requiring oil and gas companies to consult with the Colorado Division of Wildlife if they plan to drill in sensitive wildlife areas. That consultation would identify any conditions companies would have to follow if they drill in those wildlife locations.

The conditions would be guided by a list of basin-specific best management practices. Those techniques are expected to be identified during a later stakeholder process.

Oil and gas companies would not have to consult with the DOW under several scenarios, such as if a company drafts a comprehensive drilling plan or if it limits its density.

Bob Elderkin, a member of the Colorado Mule Deer Association, said while the conservation community didn’t get all that it wanted, neither did the oil and gas industry. Elderkin is recognized as the person who first drew up the wildlife guidelines for House Bill 1298, which required the COGCC to implement new rules to minimize the harm oil and gas development may cause to wildlife.

“These rules are important because the number of well pads in an area can be reduced to avoid impacts to wildlife,” said Elderkin, a former Bureau of Land Management regulator, in a prepared statement. “Industry has the technical ability to drill a number of wells directionally from a single pad. Reducing the number of well pads will probably have a greater positive impact than anything else we’ve done for wildlife.”

The wildlife rules the commission approved on Tuesday did not contain a 90-day drilling restriction for certain areas of the state. That was a proposed rule that drew immense criticism from the oil and gas industry.

Contact Phillip Yates: 384-9117

Post Independent, Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO

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