Thanks to the dogged persistence of Governor Ritter and his expert staff, Colorado has new oil and gas rules that will help make the industry a better neighbor and position it for a cleaner and stronger energy future.
The new rules were finalized last week, but the change started in 2007 when Governor Ritter asked the state legislature for the authority to change the make-up of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. Prior to 2007, the Commission, which regulates oil and gas production in Colorado, consisted of seven members, and it was required by law that at least five of them worked for industry. Now, the Commission consists of nine members, only 3 of whom must have industry experience, and it reserves one spot for someone with substantial environmental or wildlife experience, and another for someone with substantial experience in land conservation or reclamation. This was a terrific way to begin oversight reform.
The new rules are a reasonable response to an unprecedented drilling boom in Colorado - one that is being replicated across the country. Colorado went from a state with 1,000 drilling applications in 1996 to over 8,000 in 2008.
To be honest, many feel the rules do not go far enough in protecting human health and wildlife. But they are a giant leap forward, and we hope just one of many regulatory improvements nationwide. Among other things, the rules:
- require operators to maintain an inventory of chemicals kept on site nears wells;
- help protect drinking water by creating buffer zones near drinking water sources and requiring monitoring of well pressure and water quality in some circumstances;
- require emission control devices on certain equipment located near homes, schools, and other occupied buildings;
- improve regulation of waste, including toxic waste;
- require operators to work with the Colorado Division of Wildlife to develop mitigation plans when drilling occurs near sensitive wildlife habitat such as sage grouse breeding and nesting areas, elk calving habitat, and black-footed ferret habitat;
- prohibit drilling to the maximum extent possible in critical wildlife habitat such as big horn sheep lambing areas and adjacent to native cutthroat trout streams; and
- provide a formal consultation role for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and Colorado Division of Wildlife to protect public health, the environment, and wildlife.
While industry opposed these new rules, they are reasonable and appropriate. The oil and gas rulebook in Colorado has been updated to better reflect current knowledge about the impacts of oil and gas operations and the technologies available to reduce these impacts. The rules promote thoughtful and comprehensive planning of oil and gas industrial sites in advance, to minimize ground disturbance and environmental impacts -- something that should also save industry money.
The Governor and the legislature heard the cries of local communities who have experienced industrial activity and were asking for better protection of human health, livestock health, and wildlife habitat. Clear skies and pure water are essential not only for our health, but for preserving our state's economic assets and quality of life.