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Stormwater standards cause clash

The oil and gas industry and environmental groups are at odds once again over the impacts of 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.The conflict is the latest involving a burgeoning industry and those who fear fallout from environmental impacts.On June 30, WQCC regulations took effect, which cover gas well sites of one to five acres that are under construction. 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. Those regulations do not apply once well pads, roads and pipelines are built, which are covered by the COGCC.Storm-water permits are used to help limit runoff of sediment when earth is disturbed by construction-related activities.Two trade groups, the Colorado Oil and Gas Association and the Colorado Petroleum Association sued to block the regulations. They argued that the Energy Policy Act of 2005 makes clear that no oil and gas development activities require federal storm-water permits, even if they are considered construction-related.The energy industry maintains that because of the federal law, states are prohibited from mandating that it obtain storm-water permits. The lawsuit is currently on hold while WQCC reconsiders the rule. It will convene a hearing on the matter on Jan. 9.Also joining the court fray was the Western Colorado Congress, a coalition of West Slope environmental groups which supports the rule.”The WQCC is aware it’s a growing problem and we believe they made a wise decision,” said Randy See, water issues coordinator for Western Colorado Congress. “The oil and gas industry has spent years trying to gain an exemption from the (federal) Clean Water Act. But we believe this doesn’t prohibit states from having more stringent regulations.”See said Western COlorado Congress took photos of 85 oil and gas sites in 10 Colorado counties this year and “found problems at every site” from roads collecting storm water and undersized culverts causing erosion.”The Water Quality Control Commission’s mission is to protect drinking water. The oil and gas conservation commission’s mission is to extract oil and gas in the most efficient manner,” he said. Having COGCC as the only regulatory agency “is like having the fox watch over the hen house.”Also supporting the WQCC rules are the Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River Water Conservation District and the town of Carbondale.COGCC recently adopted more stringent rules governing storm water runoff, COGCC director Brian Macke said. The new rules limit surface disturbance and erosion to prevent off-site sedimentation.Contact Donna Gray: 945-8515, ext. 510dgray@postindependent.com


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