A divided process
COGCC finishes oil, gas rule making; threat of ballot measure looms
A contentious state rule- making process intended to give local governments more say in the siting of large oil and gas facilities in their communities ended Monday as divided as it began almost a year and a half ago.
The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission approved new rules setting out when and how local governments must be consulted in regard to oil and gas development near residential areas. The process began in September 2014, when Gov. John Hickenlooper convened a task force to keep local control measures off of the statewide ballot following high- profile conflicts between drilling operators, communities and state regulators.
But on the heart of the matter— how big a proposed oil and gas facility must be to trigger local government involvement — commissioners were split, just like the many industry representatives, environmental groups, local government officials and members of the public who testified during the marathon, day- long hearing.
Commissioners voted 5- 4 in favor of defining “large scale” as eight new wells or 4,000 barrels of newor existing storage, not including water.
Tripping either threshold gives local gov-
ernments a say on where the well pads can be sited and provides nearby residents with more stringent protections regarding noise, emissions, fire control, etc. — but only when the proposed facility falls within an urban mitigation area.
Urban mitigation areas, as defined by state law, are areas where oil and gas operations are within 1,000 feet of 22 or more homes or a large facility such as a school or hospital.
Whether the newrules, which will go into effect 20 days after publication by the secretary of state, are enough to head off future conflict remains to be seen.
Industry representatives and advocates of local control expressed disappointment immediately after the commission’s vote.
“We’re disappointed that the COGCC chose to go beyond the original task force recommendations, especially in these economic times with oil prices the way that they are and jobs suffering,” Colorado Petroleum Council executive director Tracee Bentley said.
“But we do very much appreciate the process that COGCC staff ran. It was a very thorough and verywell- vetted process,” she said. “We’ll continue like we always have, towork with local governments and stakeholders.”
Oil and gas companies had advocated for a much higher 12- well or 9,600- barrel storage threshold.
Allied Local Governments — a prolocal control consortium representing Brighton, Broomfield, Erie, Fort Collins, Longmont and Loveland, and Boulder and La Plata counties— hoped the commission would err on the side of requiring more communication, triggering local input at 2,000 barrels of on- site storage including water, and 45,000 feet of well- bore length.
At the beginning of Monday’s hearing, the COGCC staff proposed 90,000 feet ofwell- bore length and 2,000 barrels of storage, not including water.
Larimer County resident Katherine Hall, who testified in favor of local control, said shewould not be surprised if a citizen- initiated measure ended up on November’s ballot.
“The final outcome of the rule making does not go far enough to ease the concerns of Colorado citizens,” Hall said.