Water monitoring exemption for oil companies overturned in House

A bill that would re-instate more stringent groundwater monitoring rules in Northern Colorado oil fields heads to the state Senate after passing the state House on Wednesday.

House Bill 1316, sponsored by House Majority Leader Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, D-Boulder, and Rep. Joe Salazar, D-Thornton, would require the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to adopt uniform groundwater sampling rules. It passed by a narrow 34-29 vote. Northern Colorado was partially exempted from the new rules in January, when they were adopted by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

Coincindentally, the new rules also took effect Wednesday. The new rules require companies to sample as many as four water wells within one-half mile of a new oil and gas well before drilling. Two more samples of each well must be taken between six and 12 months and again between five and six years.

But in the Greater Wattenberg Area, under the exemption, operators are required to sample only one water well per quarter section before and after drilling. The oil and gas commission exempted the region from the stricter statewide rule because  of the combination of energy development, agriculture and other industrial and residential uses there.

Neither oil industry representatives or environmental groups embraced the new monitoring rules. Stan Dempsey, president of the Colorado Petroleum Association, criticized HB-1316, saying that it disregards scientific data presented during the creation of groundwater testing rules and derails efforts to address the needs of local communities.

“There were parts of the COGCC’s water sampling rule we would have preferred to see enacted differently,” Dempsey said in a statement. “But we believe that the role of the executive branch should be respected and that the outcomes of extensive rule making ought to be much more carefully evaluated before being overturned.”

Environmentalists have criticized the exemption in the Northern Colorado oil field, calling it the “Anadarko-Noble loophole” after two major producers in the region, Anadarko Petroleum Corp. and Noble Energy Inc.

Weld County, which lies in the Greater Wattenberg Area, is home to 20,000 of the state’s 50,000 active oil and gas wells, according to the state oil commission.

“It makes no sense that the largest producing area of oil and gas in the state is exempt from the groundwater testing rules, and it should be held to at least the same standards as the rest of the state,” Hullinghorst said in a statement.

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