New Colo. Groundwater Rules Fail to Meet Balanced Approach

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission's (COGCC) new groundwater regulations do not meet the balance between responsible energy development and environmental stewardship, a spokesperson for the Colorado Oil & Gas Association (COGA) told Rigzone Tuesday.

"Colorado has implemented a number of successful basin-specific water testing programs, including a statewide voluntary groundwater monitoring program that begin in January 2012," said Doug Flanders, director of policy and external affairs for COGA. "A new rule should have built off of these successes without unnecessarily hampering energy development with excessive and unnecessary requirements."

The new rule, approved Monday, will require operators to sample nearby water wells both before and after drilling activities as a way to provide assurance that water supplies are not affected by energy development and identify potential problems in the very rare instances of impact. At present, only two other states have mandatory groundwater programs in place, and no other U.S. state requires operators to take post-drilling water samples, the COGCC said in a statement Monday.

The rules will require operators to sample up to four water wells within one-half mile of a new oil and gas prior before drilling begins, and two more samples of each well between six and 12 months and again between five and six years.

Operators in the Greater Wattenberg area of northeastern Colorado will be required to sample one water well per quarter section before and after drilling. The rule is adjusted in this area due to the combination of energy development, agriculture and other industrial and residential use in the area.

The state program will exist alongside a Weld County-led program that provides water well testing to any well owner requesting it.

The rules will generate data needed to help regulators determine whether oil and gas activities have impacted drinking water or whether other factors could be affecting groundwater, COGGC said. The new rules follow a successful year-long voluntary sampling program designed by operators and regulators.

COGA supported a mandatory groundwater sampling alternate plan in which operators would have had to sample three wells up to one-half mile and to the extent allowed, sample locations would be chosen in different radial directions from the well or multi-well site. The plan would have required one sample taken before and after completion, deferred changes to the Greater Wattenberg area testing for later consideration or adopt a proposal for one test per operator per section, both before and after drilling.

This alternate plan would be binding with respect to any local regulation that stands in operational conflict with its provisions, and the installation of groundwater monitoring wells would not be required, Flanders said.

If Colorado's statewide voluntary testing program had been converted to a mandatory program, "Colorado would have been one of the most comprehensive water programs in the country, significantly exceeding many other water sampling requirements in the country in both scientific rigor and transparency," Flanders noted.


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