New Colorado oil, gas rules could affect very few sites

By Dan Elliott, Associated Press

New rules intended to ease tensions over oil and gas drilling near Colorado communities might have only limited impact, affecting as few as 1 percent of future sites, an analysis by state regulators shows.

DENVER (AP) — New rules intended to ease tensions over oil and gas drilling near Colorado communities might have only limited impact, affecting as few as 1 percent of future sites, an analysis by state regulators shows.

The two proposed rules would give local governments a consulting role when energy companies want to put big facilities near homes, schools and businesses. Regulators would have more authority over such facilities, which would include sites with multiple wells or storage tanks.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, which regulates drilling, drew up the proposals and will hold hearings on them Monday and Tuesday in Denver.

The rules were designed to address conflicts that arise when Colorado's growing cities and oilfields expand into each other. Residents complain of around-the-clock noise and lights from nearby drilling rigs, and they worry about spills and air pollution.

But only 13 drilling and storage sites approved over the past two years — 0.8 percent of the total — were in areas that would be covered by the new rules, the commission's cost-benefit analysis said. And one of those facilities wouldn't be considered a large site and wouldn't be subject to the regulations.

Proponents of tighter regulations said that was too little, but energy companies said the proposals are too restrictive. Todd Hartman, a spokesman for the oil and gas commission, said the agency wouldn't comment.

"As written, the draft rules are nearly meaningless," said Matt Sura, who served on Gov. John Hickenlooper's oil and gastask force, which recommended the two rules, among others. Sura is an attorney who represents landowners and local governments in negotiations with energy companies.

"They're trying to cram this narrow reading to benefit the industry," Sura said Friday.

Task force member Bernie Buescher also said the commission's language was too narrow for the rule he proposed: letting regulators require energy companies to minimize the disruption that big facilities cause to communities.

The commission's language would apply only to facilities in "urban mitigation areas," generally within about 1,000 feet of developed areas. Buescher said it should be broader.

"It was my intention that the recommendation apply regardless of whether the proposed location was within an urban mitigation area," Buescher, a former Colorado secretary of state, said in a written comment to the commission.

Energy companies and their supporters argue that underground oil and gas are property and the owners have a right to extract it. They say Colorado already has some of the strictest regulations in the nation.

The Colorado Petroleum Council said the proposed new rules would apply to too many facilities and asked the commission to change its definition of a large operation.

The commission's definition is based on the total depth of all the wells and the total capacity of all the tanks proposed for the site. In a written comment, the Petroleum Council suggested the definition be based on the total number of wells and tanks, regardless of depth or capacity.

Others objected to a provision that would allow regulators to limit the length of time a drilling rig could operate at a multi-well site in an urban mitigation area. Bill Barrett Corp., in another written statement, called the rigs "temporary aesthetic disturbances" that don't pose a significant threat to people or the environment.

It's not clear when the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission will vote on the proposals.

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