COGCC hearings stalled under pressure from industry

November 18, 2015

COGCC, Colorado, oil and gas drilling

A large-scale, multi-well facility with sound wall moved into this Windsor neighborhood in 2014. Windsor, a bedroom community for Loveland Fort Collins and Greeley, is booming with new home development. [RJ Sangosti, Denver Post file photo]

A large-scale, multi-well facility with sound wall moved into this Windsor neighborhood in 2014. Windsor, a bedroom community for Loveland-Fort Collins-Greeley, is booming with new home development. [RJ Sangosti, Denver Post file photo]

A big THANK YOU goes out to all who attended the COGCC rulemaking hearings this week in Denver. It’s not an easy task and we deeply appreciate your efforts.

To recap, the COGCC rulemaking hearings were held on Monday and Tuesday in Denver to discuss:

  1. the location of large scale oil and gas facilities near homes
  2. local governments authority over oil and gas development within their boundaries

Here is a roundup of news stories about the hearings. As usual I have included excerpts taken out of context that serve my own agenda, emphasis added when necessary. If you scroll down the page and just read the headlines, they pretty much tell the story.

Ursa well pad in Battlement Mesa -- March 2015 [Photo by Amy Hadden Marsh/KDNK]

Ursa well pad in Battlement Mesa — March 2015 [Photo by Amy Hadden Marsh/KDNK]

Let’s begin by hearing from our friends and neighbors in Battlement Mesa.

Post Independent: Battlement residents lobby O&G regulators for protection

… In Battlement Mesa, a residential area adjacent to Parachute in unincorporated Garfield County, Ursa Resources has proposed setting up well pads within the planned unit development. Many residents, who have lived with gas operations adjacent to the PUD, say the plan will wreck their quality of life on top of their already damaged property values, and they feel slighted by the proposed rule that they feel is geared toward the more populous Front Range.

Battlement Mesa resident Bob Robertson said he and his wife thought they were getting “the Colorado dream” when they bought their home — “beautiful sights, quiet, peaceful living in a convenant-controlled community.”

“Then almost three years ago, a Monument well pad went in just outside the PUD, one-fourth mile from our home.” It brought “horrible smells that force us to go inside and turn off our swamp coolers, loud noises, so we can’t carry on conversation with neighbors and friends. When we made calls to Ursa about our complaints, they said, ‘We’re sorry, we’ll get that fixed. We have a new truck driver who parked the wrong way, we‘ll add a couple bales of hay’ … or ‘Oops, gas escaped from a valve.’” Whatever happens, the operators don’t get even a slap on the wrist, he said.

“Now, Ursa wants to drill 197 wells inside the PUD, 53 in phase one. I can get a fine if I leave a garbage can out too long … or if I play music too loud. … Battlement Mesa is a covenant-controlled community, and wells do not belong inside it. The same covenants should apply to anyone doing business inside the community. If wells are inside the Mesa PUD, foul smells should equal large fines, and loud noises should equal large fines.”

Don Simpson, Ursa’s vice president for business development, said Battlement Mesa wasn’t set up as retirement community. Exxon, when it hoped to extract oil shale, built the development for workers, then sold surface rights when it abandoned the area. Today Battlement Mesa residents are primarily industry employees, he said …

Really? Are there any actual statistics on that? Numbers please.

And what sort logic is that? Since most of the residents are oil & gas workers anyway it’s perfectly okay to poison them because they don’t want to lose their jobs so they won’t complain.

Yeah, well not all gas workers keep their mouths shut. Go to GasVets.org and read what happens to oil & gas workers.

Now let’s hear from WCC’s Emily Hornback speaking out on behalf of rural Colorado residents:

… Emily Hornback, a community organizer with the Western Colorado Congress, told the commission that “whatever comes out of this rulemaking is … critically important to the otherwise-unrepresented adjacent landowners who have been fighting for some sort of legal standing before the COGCC for 30 years.”

“The new rules for large-scale facilities cannot only apply to people living in” urban mitigation areas.

… “Battlement Mesa is a prime example of how the issue of ‘residential drilling,’ as it has come to be recognized, is not a solely a Front Range issue. Here is a planned housing development in Garfield County that is bumping up against large-scale natural gas development, with the same conflicts and problems as in Greeley and Windsor, etc.

“With 197 wells being drilled in and around their community, their story is pretty comparable to anything that is happening out here. However, depending on where a plat maybe be placed, parts of Battlement Mesa would not meet the [urban mitigation area] definition.”

She said “the commission has a unique opportunity to make some small but common-sense changes to the regulations of this industry that will have real benefits for our members and people living next to O&G development across the state.”

Among those changes would be creating a definition for a large-scale facility within 1,500 feet of a building unit “with the same triggers as a large UMA facility.”

“A definition that stops at the boundary of an urban mitigation area is a blunt instrument,” Hornback said. “Worse than being a blunt instrument, it’ll be like having the world’s smallest sledgehammer in your toolbox. You’re not going to fix many problems with that tool.

“UMA fails to account for people and solely counts the number of buildings within 1,000 feet. And it doesn’t even do that well. A residential building unit could be a single-family home, a duplex, a triplex, condominium, an apartment building with 100 people (which is the case in Battlement Mesa). You have no idea how many people live within a UMA. This rule needs to be crafted in a manner to protect the health and safety of people, not buildings.”

**********

Daily Sentinel: Consensus hard to find on gas rules
Panel hears from all sides while mulling regulations

… “Really what I want to say to you is you really are our only hope. Residents have no one else to speak for them,” Battlement Mesa resident Bernie Grove told the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission as it began a hearing on proposed new rules based on two recommendations of a state task force …

… Resident Bonnie Smeltzer told COGCC members of headaches, eye irritation and other health problems she says she has experienced as a result of drilling from locations as close as a quarter mile away but outside the community. She said she went to the hearing because she felt it was her last chance to express concern about the health and well-being of her community.

“If you don’t actually live close to gas well pads you can’t really understand that,” she said …

**********

Denver Business Journal: Colorado’s proposed oil and gas rules draw avalanche of critics at hearing

Boulder County Commissioner Elise Jones was the first person to speak at the public hearing, and used her time to ask that the definition of “large” oil and gas facilities be cut in half, to four wells, adding that “even this level of activity has major impacts.”

And, she said, the proposals still leave too many loopholes for energy companies to operate in neighborhoods while it also doesn’t limit the number of wells in such areas. Jones said operators should have to prove to state and local officials that they must site the operation in a neighborhood, “that no other location is possible.”

“Unfortunately, the rules as currently drafted falls miserable short of solving the problem,” Jones told the commissioners …

**********

Greeley Tribune: COGCC rules discussion for oil-gas drilling touch off passionate debate

… Bernie Buescher, former secretary of state for Colorado and member of the oil and gas task force, called being in a position to have to interpret rules after they’re written a new level of “Dante’s hell.” Rule 17 was a combination of two rules the task force was wrestling with last year, he explained.

“First of all, staff has done a very good job of interpreting what we intended and there are many very good things in this recommendation, and I highly commend them for their effort,” Buescher said.

He said the main point of contention on No. 17 was the phrase “scale, proximity and intensity,” in working to define a large-scale facility. As an example, it looked at limiting the number of storage tanks that collect oil from a producing well and the associated equipment.

The COGCC staff interpreted size, after several meetings with local governments across the state, to be facilities with a total of 90,000 linear feet of drilling or 4,000 barrels of storage on site. The numbers are meant to be a trigger for consultation between operators and local governments, and not actual limits.

“I think this is on the right track,” Buescher said. “The one modification I’d make is to say if the facility is within some distance of a school or health care facility, the metrics should be reduced. As an example, if a facility is within 1/2 mile of a school or medical facility, the number should be reduced by half.”

The commission heard several other suggestions, such as requiring 1,500-foot setbacks, requiring companies to pipe out oil and gas rather than use trucks and denying permits to companies with 10 or more spills in the previous year.

The commission likely won’t make a decision until mid-December, and as COGCC Director Matt Lepore stated Monday morning, the recommendations are only that.

“We find ourselves in the familiar if not necessarily comfortable position of attempting to balance those competing interests and rights to the best of our abilities,” Lepore said. “Staff proposed rules we sought to adhere largely to the language of two task force recommendations, if not language then certainly to the spirit of those recommendations. …

“At the end of day, rules are for this body to decide.”

Sara Barwinski, who recently moved to Estes Park from Greeley, stated the rules didn’t go far enough in that they relied too much on mitigating bad sites rather than forcing operators to search for better sites to locate highly industrialized facilities. Barwinski represented Greeley and Weld Air and Water on the task force last year. Barwinski said she and her husband moved to Greeley in 2011 and lived 750 feet away from an oil and gas facility. She said her asthma got worse. They said they finally had enough and moved last month.

“Not everyone has that option, and we can’t represent that citizen relocation is appropriate,” Barwinski said.

According to county records, Barwinski and her husband sold their Greeley home this fall for $330,000 after it appreciated 23 percent in the past four years.

“I said yes to serving on the task force, and that was a hard job. I accepted the fact that any change would be incremental, but it should not be insignificant,” Barwinski said. “Use the tools to make this rule meaningful and not much ado about nothing” …

**********

Denver Business Journal: Colorado oil and gas industry pushes back against proposed rules

The oil and gas industry Tuesday pushed back hard against Colorado’s proposals to require that energy companies communicate more and earlier with local governments when big oil and gas operations are planned near homes.

Industry representatives said the proposals put together by the staff of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), which held the second day of hearings on the matter, went far beyond the written recommendations of Gov. John Hickenlooper’s 21-member oil and gas task force. They also offered the industry’s suggestions for modifying the proposals …

So, as usual, the industry stepped in and started running the show and the hearings collapsed under the weight of themselves. The same thing happened with the task force. When the folks in the industry sense the tide is turning against them, progress comes to a screeching halt.

Denver Post: Talks on new drilling rules for Colorado bog down
Petroleum industry and local governments don’t agree with state regulators on basic terms of proposed rules

Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission hearings to craft new rules giving local governments a greater say on drilling in populated areas bogged down Monday and Tuesday.

“We are not moving rapidly through this,” director Matt Lepore warned commission members before asking them to set aside Dec. 7 and another day, to be determined, for more rule-making talks.

After hours of testimony, basic questions like the definition of a “large-scale” drilling operation that triggers local notifications and stricter safeguards remained hotly contested.

… But industry representatives said future drilling will come ever closer to municipal boundaries, and that lower prices are pushing them to use ever larger well pads.

Anadarko Petroleum, for example, expects that 40 percent of future wells will be near or within municipal boundaries …

Coming soon to neighborhood near you this large-scale multi-well facility with at least 12 to 16 wells, plus 90,000 feet of wellbore, or 4,000 barrels of petroleum storage. This is how the industry envisions it.

Engineering design by T. Farley and T. Hutchinson, Halker Consulting, Lone Tree, Colorado [Source: Gasprocessingnews.com]

Engineering design by T. Farley and T. Hutchinson, Halker Consulting, Lone Tree, CO [Source: Gasprocessingnews.com]

This is what it will look like in your neighborhood after the sound walls go up.

An oil and gas company built a wall around their operations to keep noise down for the neighborhood in the Liberty Ranch development in Mead, May 14, 2014. [RJ Sangosti, Denver Post file photo]

An oil and gas company built a wall around their operations to keep noise down for the neighborhood in the Liberty Ranch development in Mead CO, May 2014. [RJ Sangosti, Denver Post file photo]

OBTW, there will be one or two more days of COGCC rulemaking hearings next month. Happy holidaze …

See also —

Denver  Post: Gap remains on local control of oil and gas activity in Colorado

Daily Sentinel: Task force suggestion faces more scrutiny

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3 Comments on “COGCC hearings stalled under pressure from industry”

  1. frackfiles Says:

    These industry “Robber Barons” need to move their family’s into these “Sacrifice Zones” and see ho they like living among the poisonous toxins!!

  2. Barbara Coddington Says:

    Love the pictures..Jesus! the only thing missing here and in the next piece that you wrote was the letter from Jim Fitzgerld; which would represent misgivings within the COGCC intelf.

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