Colo energy companies may have to track chemicals |

Colo energy companies may have to track chemicals

Phillip Yates
Glenwood Springs Correspondent
Vail, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado ” Members of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission endorsed a new rule on Tuesday that would require oil and gas companies to maintain records of chemicals used in the drilling and completion process at a well site. Those records may be accessed by the state.

Commissioners also endorsed a rule that would limit the building of certain oil and gas facilities within 300 feet and for a distance of five miles upstream of a public water supply.

Those two rules have been some of the more contentious regulations the state has proposed in its current rule-making for the state’s oil and gas industry.

Seven rules commissioners provisionally approved on Tuesday ” which mostly focused on public health and environmental issues and took up most of their time during the hearing ” largely followed recommendations that COGCC staff released earlier this month. Commissioners made several revisions and edits to those recommendations.

The commission is expected to conduct final votes on the new regulations in mid-September.

Some area groups, which have supported strong regulations for oil and gas companies, have said the agency’s staff rule recommendations and clarifications have been “watered down,” from draft regulations released in March.

“As I read staff recommendations, I did see a lot of the same proposed alternative language that industry put forth,” said Frank Smith, the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance organizer for the Western Colorado Congress, a regional advocacy organization. “I see in more instances than not industry language being incorporated but not those of environmental and local concerns.”

Oil and gas companies, along with industry trade groups, have blasted the new rules. They say they could cause crippling effects on the state and area’s economy.

Meg Collins, president of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, lambasted the commission after the commission hearing ended Tuesday.

“We were hopeful that the COGCC commissioners would focus on the mounds of scientific data, balanced motions and carefully crafted alternatives pending before them,” Collins said in a written statement. “However, that didn’t happen, which should infuriate the people of Colorado. There was no discussion of industry alternatives.”

She added that the chemical inventory rule, where industry and staff reached a consensus on language, “ended up becoming a ‘jump ball’ that ignores hundreds of cumulative hours of work between interested stakeholders.”

The drafting of new rules is a result of legislation the state Legislature passed last year that required the state to consider public health and wildlife impacts to minimize harm from oil and gas development.

Commissioners ” including Garfield County Commissioner Tresi Houpt, who is a member of the commission ” immediately began making their mark on the new rules as Tuesday’s hearing kicked off. Houpt offered a motion to edit COGCC staff language over the purpose of the new rules to say they were instituted to protect the state’s public health, environment and wildlife. Her motion passed on a unanimous vote.

The commissioners then waded through a long debate about a rule that would require oil and gas companies to main an inventory of chemicals used in their drilling and completion operations at a well site ” one of the more controversial rules the commission will consider. Oil and gas companies consider the chemicals they use to be trade secrets.

Commissioner Kimberlee Miskell Gerhardt, a consulting geologist from La Plata County, said that the state should just start with a rule that requires companies to maintain an inventory of chemicals in excess of 500 pounds on a well site and see how it goes. She said there wasn’t any “demonstrated need” to go below that weight threshold.

But Houpt objected, saying she believed that companies might find a way around that rule.

“I just felt it was important to not identify a threshold,” Houpt said after Tuesday’s hearing. “There may be chemicals that may never reach that threshold that we will never know about.”

Much of the commissioners’ initial debate about the new chemical reporting rule centered around whether medical professionals may obtain oil and gas companies’ chemical information in the event of an emergency. They also discussed about how far confidentially agreements should go to protect companies’ chemical mixtures.

The commission provisionally approved those chemical reporting rules, while making additional changes, on a vote of 8 to 1. Houpt voted against approving them, citing the 500-pound threshold.

The commissioners also debated a rule that would prohibit energy companies from constructing new oil and gas facilities within 300 feet and for a distance of five miles upstream of a public water supply. Pipelines, roads and gathering lines are excluded from that regulation.

The state can grant variances to the 300-foot regulation, according to the rules. The language governing variances was massaged by the commissioners during Tuesday’s hearing.

Commissioner Joshua Epel ” who provides legal counsel to DCP Midstream, an oil and gas company ” said he had too many concerns about the stipulations surrounding the 300-foot regulation, and said they had “too many flaws” as written.

Houpt wondered why pipelines, roads and gathering facilities were excluded. Dave Neslin, acting director of the COGCC, said they were excluded because those facilities are covered by other proposed rules. She argued that the 300-foot zone where no new facilities should be built be raised to 500 feet, which the COGCC initially recommended in March. That request was defeated.

“So many local jurisdictions support a 500-foot or more buffer,” she said after the hearing.

The commissioners also provisionally approved a requirement for companies operating in Garfield, Mesa and Rio Blanco counties to file pollution checklists that show what actions companies have taken at their drilling sites that show compliance with specific rules for protection of the environment.

The commission also approved a regulation that would require production facilities observable from a public highway to be painted with “uniform, noncontrasting, nonreflective color tones and with colors matched to but slightly darker than the surrounding landscape.”

On the docket for the commissioners today are several rules, including one that would require oil and gas facilities to be operated in a way that minimizes odors and dust. That rule is expected to generate heated debate among the commission today.

Editor’s note: The Post Independent covered the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission’s Tuesday hearing by listening to a webcast of it on the Internet.

Contact Phillip Yates: 384-9117

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