Oil and Gas Commission adopts new on-site inspection policy
Despite a plea by the Garfield County Energy Advisory Board to delay its decision, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission adopted a new policy Monday for on-site inspections of proposed natural gas well locations.The policy, which is effective Feb. 15, will allow surface owners who do not own the rights to the minerals beneath their land, to request an on-site inspection of a proposed well pad.The COGCC will not issue a permit to drill until a site inspection takes place. Previous rules did not allow surface owners the ability to request a site inspection.Members of the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance objected to the new policy saying surface owners would be better protected from drilling impacts through legislation. Newly elected state Rep. Kathleen Curry of Gunnison will introduce a bill to protect the rights of surface owners in the next legislative session.The Garfield County Commissioners and the county Energy Advisory Board also asked the COGCC to delay adopting the policy until February to give the EAB time to study what it characterized as last-minute changes drafted on Jan. 4. The original draft of the policy was published Dec. 2.EAB members criticized the COGCC for submitting the changes on short notice. “We can’t continue to operate with 11th hour, last minute changes,” said board member Doug DeNio. The EAB voted in favor of the Dec. 2 draft of the policy but took issue with some of the changes in the Jan. 4 draft. The EAB makes recommendations to the county commissioners on oil and gas matters.”We did take time to prepare another draft. It was released just as soon as possible. It is a commission policy not a formal rule. It was also released with the knowledge that there would be a full hearing on Monday for people to comment,” COGCC director Brian Macke said. “Although we didn’t delay (the adoption of the policy), it doesn’t mean we don’t take Garfield County concerns seriously.”One of the changes from the earlier draft gives surface owners 10 business days to request an on-site inspection, rather than 20 calendar days, said county oil and gas auditor Doug Dennison, who attended the COGCC hearing.”It ultimately gives the surface owner more time” to request an inspection. Dennison explained that the timing of the inspection request changed from early to latter in the drilling permit process.”I think it would be closer to when the well permit would be filed and all the issues (with well road locations) would be more relevant. Potentially it would delay the permit and gives the surface owner more leverage,” he said.Macke said surface owners will be able to request an inspection after the operator has determined where it will place a drill pad and access roads, rather than much earlier in the process.”It gives the surface owner more information,” Macke said.Also at issue was no longer automatically including a local government designee in the site inspection, in this case, Dennison. The designee will have to be specifically requested to be present by the surface owner.Dennison said the policy is just that, a guideline that is not cast in stone. A trial period of six months is common to try it out and give all interested parties an opportunity to come back with comments about how well it does or does not work.”The O&G staff said this is routine to try it as a policy before adopting it as a rule,” Dennison said. “I think that within six months we’ll have a good idea if it does what it’s intended to do.”Surface owners also have other options for relief if they believe they are being unfairly impacted, Dennison said.”The problem is people have to use the process to the fullest. They have to really understand the oil and gas rules. It’s tough,” he said.”In my experience, operators will move a drilling location as best they can unless there are technical reasons (why they cannot).”
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