Oil commission puts off decision on buffers

The state oil commission has postponed a Thursday hearing in which it was scheduled to vote whether to approve new rules that would expand the buffers between homes and oil and natural-gas drilling to at least 500 feet.

Thursday’s meeting in Denver instead will serve to update commissioners of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, said Todd Hartman, spokesman for the Colorado Department of Natural Resources.

A final vote by the oil commission is expected Feb. 11, Hartman said in an email.

The oil commission gave preliminary approval to the regulations earlier this month.

But the oil commission received a significant number of letters and emails from various parties since it closed the rulemaking record Jan. 9. The commission decided to reopen the record for “a limited period” to allow additional written comments “to ensure an open, fair and transparent process.”

The proposed rules have drawn criticism from environmentalists, industry representatives and local government officials.

Weld County commissioners Jan. 16 called on the oil commission to dismiss the new rules, which Weld elected officials said they would disobey.

The oil commission has proposed the following rules:

• Existing setback, or buffer, standards of 150 feet in rural areas and 350 feet in urban areas will be extended to a uniform 500 feet statewide.

• Operators wanting to drill within 1,000 feet of an occupied building would be required to meet new and enhanced measures to limit the disruptions a nearby drill site can create. Those measures include closed-loop drilling that eliminate pits, liner standards to protect against spills, capture of gases to reduce odors and emissions, as well as strict controls on the nuisance impacts of noise, dust and lighting.

• Drilling operations cannot operate within 1,000 feet of buildings housing larger numbers of people, such as schools, nursing homes and hospitals, without a hearing before the commission.

• Operators must engage in expanded notice and outreach efforts with nearby residents and conduct additional engagement with local governments about proposed operations. As part of this, operators proposing drilling within 1,000 feet must meet with anyone within that area who asks.

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