Study finds COGCC doesn’t enforce setbacks regulations

February 2, 2015

COGCC, Colorado, oil and gas drilling

In a joint press release on January 29, the University of Denver Environmental Law Clinic and the Sierra Club Rocky Mountain Chapter announced a new study that finds: “Gov. John Hickenlooper’s administration is approving oil and gas drilling near homes, schools and businesses without following its own regulations.”

DU report coverDU Environmental Law Clinic Analysis Indicates Lax Enforcement on Oil & Gas Setbacks

DENVER, CO: Gov. John Hickenlooper’s administration is approving oil and gas drilling near homes, schools and businesses without following its own regulations, according to a new analysis by student attorneys at the University of Denver Environmental Law Clinic conducted for the Sierra Club.

The study recommends the Colorado Oil & Gas Commission (COGCC) reject incomplete drilling permit applications, increase and standardize notification of residents near drilling and fracking, improve online information access and base setback requirements on science and necessary precautions to protect public health and environment.

“The COGCC has a job to do, which is to implement strong regulations and enforce those regulations to protect public health, safety and the environment. When it comes to drilling and fracking near communities, citizens and local government are the ones living with the impacts and their voices need to be ones that are given the most weight in the process,” said Catherine Collentine of the Sierra Club.

Colorado regulations, in effect since August, 2013, require pads with multiple oil and gas wells located within 1,000 feet from homes, schools and businesses be placed “as far as possible” from those buildings. The governor and COGCC promised increased enforcement of the regulation last fall, but the analysis found no evidence of additional rigor in permit reviews.

Student attorneys at DU Environmental Law Clinic conducted a legal review of 1300 permits issued since August, 2013 and discovered 181 were granted, despite incomplete documentation. Those 181 permits accounted for an immense amount of development: 951 wells, 1221 tanks and 932 separators. Most of the 181 permits for oil and gas wells are located in Weld County — others originated in Adams, Garfield, Larimer, and La Plata counties.

“All I am asking for is to prevent errors up front so that there are no problems later on and no risks later on …,” said Katherine Hall, a Larimer County resident, at Monday’s COGCC meeting who recently discovered dozens of significant errors for a multi-well permit application 2,000 feet from a school. “These children deserve that …”*

“We hope that our analysis will help inform the COGCC as it works to meet its goal of protecting the health and safety of all Coloradoans,” said Lauren Bushong, student attorney with DU’s Environmental Law Clinic. “If followed, our recommendations should allow for greater, and more meaningful public participation in the permitting process.”

The analysis can be found online at:

University of Denver Environmental Law Clinic

Sierra Club Rocky Mountain Chapter

*Katherine Hall’s complete comments are available at approximately 1 hour, 12 minutes into the audio testimony: Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission Hearing – January 26, 2013

DU Study: State Lax In Enforcing Setback Rules For Drilling

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2 Comments on “Study finds COGCC doesn’t enforce setbacks regulations”

  1. Barbara Coddington Says:

    Even with the front range population now being impacted, it feels like there is little outrage at government’s lack of oversight. The extraction industry is like a big blind giant that people and any few regulators allow to blunder about. They are quite literally, killing us.

  2. Greg Bradford Says:

    That the COGCC does not follow State laws and regulations when approving permits does not surprise me. I have been involved in preparing permit applications for more than 40 years – in my experience many regulatory agencies are understaffed and overworked. In addition, most people seem unaware all 50 states, at least four US territories and the District of Columbia have laws and regulations governing the practice and profession of engineering.

    If the concern is protection of the public and not political wrangling over who gets to tell who to do what, Colorado has laws and regulations specifically promulgated to that end – the laws and regulations governing the practice and profession of engineering (see CRS 12-25-101 through 119). Under these, with some exemptions, only licensed engineers are allowed to practice engineering. The practice of engineering includes designing, evaluating, constructing, monitoring, certifying and estimating costs for engineering works. State agencies are not exempted from this requirement. Companies which do work strictly for their internal use are exempted; however, permit applications are for the use of state agencies and the public and not for strictly internal use of the company. Also, under 4 CCR 730-5.1.3.1, local agencies are allowed to require engineering work be certified by licensed engineers.

    Under CRS 34-60-101 et al, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conversation Commission (COGCC) has the authority to define technical requirements for oil and gas drilling, including fracking. And yet, in regard to fracking there are none, e.g., information deemed necessary by an alleged fracking expert (http://www.westernenergyboard.org/wieb/fracking/webinars/w_fleckenstein.pdf) is not required or reviewed by the COGCC. Based on my research, most of the environmental problems associated with drilling and fracking are the result of casing and cementing failures (poor design and construction?). Until and unless the COGCC develops specifications for fracking perhaps local agencies can, and should be, allowed to set their own requirements. Part of the Longmont decision (Third District Court Case No 13cv63) noted the COGCC has the authority to set technical specifications/requirements for fracking and that these specifications override local law – however, the Judge ignored the fact there are no such specifications.

    While following the law and requiring engineering work be done by licensed engineers will not solve all of the problems, such will certainly contribute to better designs, evaluations, construction, monitoring and closure of oil and gas wells. As an old engineer I can verify having to put my name and certification on a design, and realizing I am putting my house, retirement and children’s college education on the line, heightens my senses of responsibility and accountability. There is a distinct, and often alarming to the professional, difference between engineering as a job and engineering as a profession. That this difference is intentional and expected to be accepted by the professional can be seen be reviewing the Code of Ethics on the NSPE website (http://www.nspe.org/sites/default/files/resources/pdfs/Ethics/CodeofEthics/Code-2007-July.pdf). As a professional an engineer’s obligation is not to a supervisor, an employer or a client, but to the public.

    As an engineer I am not opposed to oil/gas wells, pipelines or mining. As a professional I am opposed to persons who do not place “service before profit” (see http://www.nspe.org/resources/ethics/code-ethics/engineers-creed) and are not willing to be responsible or accountable for their work.

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