Colorado sketches proposed natural gas, oil ‘setback’ rules

DENVER The director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission said its time to consider statewide rules on baseline groundwater sampling and monitoring at new well pads, which could show when drilling operations have contaminated groundwater supplies and when they havent.

For the last several months, the state has been holding meetings with the natural-gas and oil industry representatives, community leaders and other stakeholders to discuss revising the states so-called setback rules on how far wells must be from buildings.

Late Friday, commission director Matt Lepore emailed stakeholders an early outline of suggested revisions, based on the meetings. But he said theres much more discussion to come.

The outline represents a starting point for more discussion on the details with parties affected by drilling activities, whether its the companies themselves, farmers, homebuilders, environmentalists, mineral-rights holders, communities or developers.

It includes the groundwater sampling proposal, but also a proposed requirement for a public hearing and commission approval before wellheads can be placed within 750 feet of schools, hospitals or other high-occupancy buildings.

It suggests different requirements for working with building owners depending on how close buildings are to a proposed wellhead, but generally it suggests keeping wells at least 350 feet away.

For now, theres a suggestion that drillers be required to collect initial groundwater samples from the two closest water wells, springs or surface water bodies within a mile of a proposed drilling location and take another sample 12 to 18 months later. Another collection would be taken at the final reclamation of a site.

Lepore said most Colorado wells already fall under state groundwater sampling requirements or a voluntary sampling program launched last year by the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, a trade group.

It is time to consider a statewide rule that would continue Colorados role as a leader in sensible, environmentally responsible industry regulation, he wrote.

COGA was reviewing Lepores email and said Monday it was looking forward to engaging with other stakeholders in more discussions.

The stakeholders meet again Thursday.

While conceptual in nature, we believe the setback revisions outlined represent a reasoned and responsible approach to balancing many competing interests, and to mitigating the impacts of oil and gas operations on nearby residences and other occupied buildings, Lepore wrote.

Communities have taken a growing interest in regulations for drilling companies as advances have allowed companies to tap resources that were once hard to reach, including some resources underneath more populated areas.