Task force recommendations turning into industry accommodations

December 8, 2015

COGCC, Colorado, oil and gas drilling

A drilling rig is seen Thursday in the Eagle Valley subdivision in Weld County. Go to timescall.com for more photos. (Matthew Jonas / Staff Photographer)

A drilling rig in the Eagle Valley subdivision in Weld County. [Matthew Jonas /Longmont Times Call]

The COGCC conducted a third day of hearings on the task force recommendations No. 17 and 20. Monday’s hearing (12/7) was a continuation of the November 17th hearing. No. 17 recommends collaboration between local governments, COGCC, and operators on siting of large-scale oil & gas facilities. No. 20 recommends that operators provide local governments with 5-year comprehensive drilling plans.

The recommendations are pretty straightforward and the stipulations are spelled out clearly. Mike King (Ex. Dir., CO-DNR), Matt Lepore and the commissioners are making this process a lot harder than it has to be.

King summed it up this way: “We’re wrestling with a Rubik’s Cube with multiple areas of tension: between local and state authority, mineral interests, the surface estate, urban and agricultural interests. Where we get confounded is when we get abstract.”

And they be getting abstract all right. When it comes to rulemaking “confounded” always works best for the state. Tell everyone the issues are too complicated and back that up with discussions that go around in circles until all parties are utterly frustrated and confused. This is not Rubik’s Cube. It’s more like Twister. The COGCC has to contort itself so it appears to be responding to public pressure to address residential drilling and fracking while simultaneously accommodating the industry.

The first industry accommodation came from Lepore on Monday when he unilaterally struck the “time-out” proposal.

Proposed ‘time out’ on oil and gas drilling draws ire from energy executives

Having state officials call a 90-day “time out” on drilling and fracking operations could triple the time oil and gas companies need to drill up to 16 wells at a site, energy industry executives told the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission on Monday …

… On Monday, one of the biggest issues for the state’s oil and gas industry — the “time-out” issue — appeared to be taken off the table.

Matt Lepore, the COGCC’s director, told the commissioners that he was pulling it from the proposed rule, because he believes he already has the authority to call a time-out under the agency’s existing rules as a “condition of approval” on individual drilling permits. Jake Matter, the Assistant Attorney General who is assigned to the COGCC, has issued an opinion supporting Lepore’s contention.

“We pulled duration limits out of the rule, with the understanding that we do have the authority to impose a duration limit under existing rules,” Lepore said.

“That will be our plan on a go-forward basis. We will look hard at the sites, the mitigation measures, an operator indicates to us what they intend to do, and how they do their fracturing operations,” Lepore said.

Lepore stressed that the proposed rules focus on large oil and gas operations in residential neighborhoods — and while the proposal hasn’t capped the size of the site, or the number of wells, or number of storage tanks “we need a backstop, to understand how they’ll be built and operated and managed.”

Lepore also took issue with the notion that the time-out might last for 90 days in the middle of drilling or fracking operations.

“I have no idea where that came from. Those assumptions are made-up assumptions,” Lepore said.

But the industry executives said time-outs could lead them to abandon plans to drill new wells at a location.

And if they decided to forge on, the time-outs would increase the amount of heavy traffic on neighboring roads as equipment is hauled out and returned later, said David Cocciolone, an engineer with Anadarko Petroleum Corp. (NYSE: APC).

“If it was my neighborhood? I don’t want you coming back in,” said Boyd McMaster, an engineer with Denver’s Extraction Oil & Gas LLC, the private oil and gas company that presented information about the ramifications of the time out provision.

Can you believe he said that? But that’s really the crux of the matter. The operators know once they start drilling and fracking it will be so traumatic for the residents that if they do a time-out the residents will fight to keep them from coming back.

Also on Monday, citizens groups said they want more information from energy companies about alternative sites that were considered for new wells and why they were rejected. They also asked that the proposed rules be enforced for all large oil and gas facilities across Colorado — not only in and around neighborhoods.

“We want to know that this is the only suitable site for development of these minerals, before you come to us and say you wanna put a site right there,” said Carl Erickson, from Weld Air and Water, a citizens group.

But some individuals indicated they believed the COGCC’s proposed rule was an exercise in futility.

“Heavy industry [such as oil and gas operations] doesn’t belong where people live — you can’t mitigate bad locations,” said Betsy Leonard, from Battlement Mesa in western Colorado.

And then there’s Weld County. They don’t play well with others. They like to make up their own rules. Kinda like Garfield County. Little O&G fiefdoms.

Local governments jockey for greater say in Colorado drilling
State holds third day of hearings on rules to give local governments a greater say on oil and gas drilling

… Weld County, home to more than 85 percent of the new wells being drilled in the state, continues to resist the entire rule-making.

“We have our own notification process,” said the county’s oil and gas liaison Troy Swain, who argued the county’s new rules will be more protective than the state’s.

King asked Swain what was so difficult about sending a two paragraph letter to the commission saying it would opt-out of the local consultation process.

“You are writing a rule requiring us to take an action,” said Swain, who argued that is something that the legislature should handle.

Weld County also opposes a state requirement that other governments within 1,000 feet of a large-scale oil and gas facility be notified and given a say.

Nearby governments won’t have standing, meaning they can’t veto an operator’s site location or request a COGCC hearing on a contested permit application, said Matt Lepore, director of the commission.

Denver attorney David Neslin, representing the petroleum industry, cited Cubist artist Pablo Picasso’s maxim that “art is the elimination of the unnecessary” in asking the provision be removed.

Seriously? Does anyone besides delusional Dave Neslin believe Picasso meant “art is the elimination of the unnecessary” as it applies to COGCC rulemaking? What a load of crap!

Yes! “Art is the elimination of the unnecessary.” Remove the unnecessary in this photo. There’s your art.

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 and Greeley, is booming with new home development. [RJ Sangosti, Denver Post file photo]

“We are going to urge you to be artful,” he said, noting that intergovernmental agreements were a much better way to handle cross-jurisdictional issues. “It will confuse the role and erode the authority of governments with land-use authority.”

But representatives of several local governments testified they want a say when their roads will handle truck traffic or their emergency responders will be called on even though a site isn’t located in their territory.

Some, like Commerce City, argued for a mile-wide radius rather than the 1,000 foot one proposed.

As to Neslin’s argument for intergovernmental agreements, Boulder County attorney Ben Pearlman noted the assumption is that they exist.

“It is unlikely Boulder County and Weld County would enter into an intergovernmental agreement,” he said. “There are a lot of differences in our approach” …

Another final hearing is scheduled for January 25, 2016, in order to finalize the discussion and take closing arguments. In the meantime, Lepore and the COGCC staff are supposed to be working on a “reconciliation” draft of the rules.

Further reading –

Third oil, gas rule-making meeting yields more complaints of finer points

Time limits dropped from drilling proposal

Colorado oil, gas rule-making hearings hang up on giving all a voice
COGCC had hoped to set final rules before the Colorado General Assembly convenes on Jan. 13, but prospects are looking poor

Ballot push heats up as drilling rules plod along

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One Comment on “Task force recommendations turning into industry accommodations”

  1. Barb Coddington Says:

    Absolutely crazy. I am so glad the eastern slope finally gets to see what these greedy thieves want, and are getting away with.

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