A di­vided process

COGCC fin­ishes oil, gas rule mak­ing; threat of bal­lot mea­sure looms

The Denver Post - - BUSINESS - By Em­i­lie Rusch

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.

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