Drilling plans needed | VailDaily.com

Drilling plans needed

Phillip Yates
Garfield County correspondent
Vail CO, Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado ” Oil and gas companies will be encouraged to draft comprehensive drilling plans that identify future drilling locations under a new rule that earned the endorsement of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) on Tuesday.

Commissioners tentatively approved a rule sketching out the requirements for the plans after several hours of lengthy debate surrounding the issue. A small round of applause erupted after the commissioners approved the rule during a hearing Tuesday.

The plans are intended to identify areas of oil and gas development in certain places and to identify measures to minimize impacts on public health, welfare and wildlife.

Companies would have to invite the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the Colorado Division of Wildlife in developing the plans, but they would also be required to invite local government and surface owners to participate.

The role of surface-use owners and local governmental representatives in finalizing those plans was a significant point commissioners debated Thursday.

“There will be landowners impacted by this plan who may not even know that their land is being discussed,” said COGCC Commissioner Tresi Houpt, who is also a Garfield County commissioner.

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She said by not making it mandatory to have local government and landowners at the table, the commission could create a “huge conflict” between other stakeholders, the COGCC and the energy operator.

What are the incentives?

The commissioners’ debate about the plans also centered around if the commission were to approve the plans, how they might be appealed and whether the incentives offered by the state would lead companies to take part in a comprehensive drilling plan.

Commissioner Mark Cutright several times wondered whether the incentives included in staff-recommended rule language for the plans would ever lead companies to draft them.

“I don’t see any of the operators (wanting) to be a part of this process,” Cutright said a few hours before commissioners reached their decision.

It is voluntary for companies to draft such plans. However, if they go forward with them, they can gain incentives from the state, like possible fast-tracking of drilling permits through the COGCC’s permitting process.

Required information in the plans would include a map showing proposed oil and gas locations, access roads, drainages, utility lines and known water wells. It would also include a plan for management in the area and a description of wildlife resources.

What will happen between the state and the feds?

On Tuesday, commissioners also a rule that would mandate when the rules would go into effect, but decided to defer consideration it until later.

A COGCC staff recommendation calls for the regulations to go into effect on April 1 on federal land and Jan. 1 for all other land.

The April 1 deadline is there so the COGCC can reach a possible accord with the federal government about how federal and state rules would be integrated on federal lands, said Dave Neslin, acting director of the COGCC.

Industry representatives had expressed warnings that the state does not have authority to draft regulations for federal lands in Colorado and that they would be pre-empted.

Colorado Bureau of Land Management Director Sarah Wisely wrote to the COGCC in July that the federal agency believes “that certain draft rules would be pre-empted by federal law if applied to oil and gas operations on federal lands.” She cited court cases and the U.S. Constitution.

Wisely also suggested in an earlier letter that the state and BLM should hash out their differences to avoid litigation.

Neslin said COGCC officials disagreed with industry that the state has no jurisdiction on federal lands. He said it would not be in the state’s interest to subordinate all its regulatory prerogatives to the federal government.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.