Energy, Utilities & Water  May 1, 2015

Oil and gas task force’s biggest ideas on hold

Health concerns to see near-term action; land-use issues remain

State agencies are vying for millions in budget money to carry out recommendations of Gov. John Hickenlooper’s oil and gas task force, but the most influential recommendations will have to wait until the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission begins rulemaking, possibly later this year.

The Legislature’s Joint Budget Committee has approved $1.3 million from the state for a dozen new positions at the state oil commission, said Todd Hartman, spokesman for the state Department of Natural Resources, which oversees the panel. Those positions consist of three inspectors, three environmental protection specialists, three engineering staff members, two hearings staff members and one information technology staff member.

“We have been focused on getting the budget priorities fulfilled during the legislative session – the recommendations that require dollars for staff, et cetera,” Hartman said. “After the session, we will begin to focus on the rulemaking process for the proposals that require that element.”

Hickenlooper formed the task force to recommend ways to reduce land-use conflicts related to oil and gas facilities around homes, schools, businesses and recreation areas. Creation of the task force headed off ballot initiatives backed by U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., that would have restricted oil and gas development.

The effort came as oil and gas wells drilled near homes and schools in urban areas raised concerns and sparked activism from Lafayette and Boulder to Greeley and Fort Collins.

The task force in February voted to approve nine recommendations, including one that would involve more local government participation and increased discretion by the state oil commission director concerning large-scale oil and gas facilities, including locations with multiple wells in urban areas.

Sara Barwinski, a member of the 21-member oil and gas task force, said she hoped the state oil commission takes up rulemaking on the recommendation by the end of the year.

“The most significant thing we did is recommend the rulemaking on proximity, intensity and scale of these large, multi-well sites.” said Barwinski, a member of activist group Weld Air and Water. “It’s where we spent the majority of our time, and I think it has the most promise.”

Ahead of the rulemaking, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has sought nearly $1.4 million to carry out its share of the recommendations.

More than $360,000 will fund a phone line and website to respond to oil and gas health concerns and $403,000 will fund a mobile air monitoring unit. Both of those projects are part of next fiscal year’s state budget.

The health line will give the department a chance to respond to people’s health concerns related to oil and gas, said Dr. Larry Wolk, executive director of the health department. That will be combined with another recommendation for the Colorado Energy Office to create an information clearinghouse on oil and gas to fulfill an unmet need.

“The general public has these concerns but doesn’t know who to go to or where to go with these concerns other than their physician or health-care provider,” Wolk said.

As part of the mobile unit, a vehicle outfitted with air-quality monitoring technology will respond to complaints about pollution from oil and gas facilities near locations such as schools and neighborhoods.

“If we get a concentration of calls from a particular area, then we want to have the ability to go out and use a mobile monitoring unit so that we can set up and take a look at values for potentially hazardous air pollutants,” he said.

The third component, an oil and gas health risk study, will have to wait until the next budget year. The state agency will wait for emissions data from Colorado State University research under way on the Western Slope and Northern Colorado, Wolk said. The health department will use the emissions data to assess risks to human health.

Despite the recommendations, discontent remains and the Legislature likely will revisit oil and gas regulations next session.

Rep. Mike Foote, D-Lafayette, said the task force did not address the main issue that it was supposed to resolve: land-use conflicts among people who live near oil and gas wells.

“The task force didn’t really give us much to work from,” Foote said. “What they did give us were nine very minimal recommendations.”


Task force recommendations

The oil and gas task force’s nine recommendations:

 Coordinate planning: Local governments, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission and producers would be urged to coordinate oil and gas locations and urban planning. The recommendation calls for a process to improve local government participation in processing drilling permits for large-scale oil and gas facilities in urban areas, as well as defining the scope of those kinds of facilities.

 Registration: Oil company would be required to register with certain local government officials. Upon request from a municipal “local government designee,” an oil company must submit operational information for the purpose of incorporating potential oil and gas development into local comprehensive plans. For example, an oil company would have to estimate how many wells it plans to drill in a city in over five years.

 Training: The state oil commission should ensure that the local government designees’ functions are “fully utilized and that they are adequately and properly resourced.” The proposal includes a requirement for the commission to reach out to local governments to educate them on the local government designee program as well as offering financial support to train local officials.

 More employees: The state oil commission should hire a dozen additional full-time employees for environmental investigations, inspections, tracking citizen complaints and other duties. Increasing the number of inspectors will allow the state oil commission to monitor wells more often.

 Keep tabs: The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment should establish a health and information hotline and website and mobile air quality monitoring unit, and research risks posed by oil and gas development to human health.

 Clearinghouse: The Colorado Energy Office should establish a clearinghouse to communicate information on the state’s oil and gas industry “to foster an improved understanding of oil and gas industry activities.”

 Compliance: The state oil commission should implement a program to help producers comply with “complicated and ever-changing operating rules and policies, and to assure that inspectors are enforcing those rules and policies in a consistent manner.”

 Rule review: The General Assembly should approve Senate Bill 100, the 2015 Rule Review Bill. The measure is introduced annually to postpone the expiration of all new state regulations adopted during the previous year. The bill would allow the February 2014 oil and gas methane rules to continue without expiration.

 Road wear: The state oil commission and Colorado Department of Transportation should convene a working group to investigate steps that government and industry can take to reduce the use of large trucks and trailers in oil and gas activities.

Source: Keystone Policy Center


State agencies are vying for millions in budget money to carry out recommendations of Gov. John Hickenlooper’s oil and gas task force, but the most influential recommendations will have to wait until the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission begins rulemaking, possibly later this year.

The Legislature’s Joint Budget Committee has approved $1.3 million from the state for a dozen new positions at the state oil commission, said Todd Hartman, spokesman for the state Department of Natural Resources, which oversees the panel. Those positions consist of three inspectors, three environmental protection specialists, three engineering staff members, two…

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