Colorado floats possible rules for groundwater monitoring, new well setbacks

Colorado floats possible rules for groundwater monitoring, new well setbacks by Scott Streater, September 26, 2012, E&E News
Colorado regulators have released an outline of possible new oil and natural gas regulations mandating groundwater testing and adding safeguards that would make it more difficult to place wells near residential neighborhoods, schools and hospitals. Matt Lepore, director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), sent an email late Friday to the members of a state setback review stakeholders group asking them to use the “Conceptual Overview of Amended Setback Rules” as a template for possible future rulemaking that addresses the contentious issues of well setbacks and groundwater protection. The three-page overview floats the idea of establishing three new setback zones requiring drilling operators to consult with property owners before drilling as far as 1,200 feet from an occupied building, but does not suggest increasing the existing minimum 350-foot setback from occupied buildings in urban areas and the 150-foot setback in rural areas.

Lepore’s overview does propose implementing “baseline groundwater sampling and monitoring on a statewide basis” that would expand on COGCC’s existing sampling requirements and a voluntary monitoring program overseen by the Colorado Oil & Gas Association. … “I think the good news is that Colorado is open to moving ahead with the rulemaking. The downside is the initial concept overview is a bare-bone proposal,” said Mike Chiropolos, Western Resource Advocates’ lands program director in Boulder, Colo. … “I’m willing to be patient, but the initial reaction to the skeleton outline here is that something’s wrong when local government is so far out in front of the state when it comes to protecting Colorado’s citizens and the environment,” he said. “We keep hearing the state agency should be driving the bus because they have the expertise. But the local governments are so far out in front of the state on this issue that I’m at a loss for words.” … Adding to the industry’s concern is that groundwater sampling and testing has not been a topic of discussion with the setback review stakeholders group, he said. “Nowhere in the stakeholder process was the baseline testing raised as an issue,” he said. “But we’ve been very, very clear that we don’t think rulemaking is necessary for either topic.”

The possible setback amendments in Lepore’s overview would require a public hearing and approval from the COGCC’s commission for any “proposed wellhead” within 750 feet of schools, hospitals, nursing homes or any other buildings “with sensitive populations or identifiable difficulties with ingress or egress.” The overview also discusses requiring drilling operators to conduct baseline groundwater sampling from the two closest water wells, springs “or surface water feature” within a mile of the proposed drilling site before construction can begin. The proposal would require follow-up sampling within 18 months after the “initial sampling event,” according to Lepore’s overview. [Emphasis added]

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