Coalition of Industries Alarmed Over Colorado’s Proposed Oil and Natural Gas Setbacks
Colorado’s industry and business groups are calling on Governor Jared Polis (D) to weigh in on discussions at the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) around dramatically increasing oil and natural gas setback distances. A coalition of 41 organizations sent a letter to Polis expressing concerns about the new proposal, while a TV ad sponsored by industry group Protect Colorado urges the governor to “stop overreach” and “provide regulatory certainty” with regards to COGCC’s decision making.
As Western Wire reported last week, industry leaders were taken aback by COGCC’s sudden support of a 2,000-foot setback from most buildings and urged the commission to reconsider in light of the failure of Proposition 112 in 2018, which similarly would have increased setbacks from the current 500 feet to 2,500 feet.
“As currently constructed, [COGCC’s] 2,000-foot setback proposal… shifts dramatically away from a focus of protecting public health, safety, and our environment in a manner that is both reasonable and necessary, as required by Senate Bill 19-181,” the letter reads. “The proposed setback would function very similar to the poorly conceived 2018 ballot measure Proposition 112… As we all know, Coloradans saw that for what it was, an industry ban, and voters defeated that measure by a double-digit margin.”
Meanwhile, a TV ad is hitting the airwaves to raise the alarm about the new regulations under consideration at the COGCC.
“We encourage Coloradans to ask COGCC’s appointed members to stop the overreach and allow regulatory certainty for oil and gas workers, the industry and the economy we share. We must remain focused on the successful implementation of SB-181,” said Protect Colorado, the group sponsoring the ad.
In the aftermath of the ballot fight around Proposition 112, the state legislature passed SB-181 in an effort to overhaul existing regulations and respond to concerns voiced by those pushing for stricter rules governing the oil and natural gas industry. In part, the legislation changed the makeup of the COGCC – Colorado’s oil and gas rulemaking body – from a voluntary position to a professional full-time commission appointed by Polis.
Upon signing SB-181 into law, Polis said “it is our hope that the oil and gas wars that have enveloped our state are over” during the signing ceremony.
But just over a year later, the setback question is front and center once again.
“Governor Polis, two years ago you stood up for Colorado’s oil and natural gas workers and against harmful regulations that would have a crippling effect on the state’s economy. You even called for an end to the oil and gas wars. Now, your own agency is considering overly complicated regulations that go well beyond what is needed or reasonable,” the Protect Colorado ad says.
Discussions at the COGCC are prompting industry groups in Colorado to speak out about the possible ramifications of quadrupling current setback levels and highlighting the surprising turn proposed regulations have taken since the onset of deliberations.
“We’re a bit disappointed from what we’ve seen over the last few weeks because we have spent hundreds of hours participating in good faith in dozens of discussions and stakeholder processes and meetings with COGCC staff and stakeholders across the board over the last six months,” Lynn Granger, executive director of API Colorado, told reporters today during a media call. “And as a result, we entered into this rulemaking… supporting a large majority of staff’s proposed rules. Rules proposed by staff who have decades of experience and technical expertise.”
Just weeks ago, the COGCC was considering 1,500 foot setbacks with waiver provisions, but recently four of the five commissioners voiced support for an extension to 2,000 feet, though are not in agreement about what, if any exemptions should be included.
During that media call, Dan Haley, CEO of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, emphasized additional rules under consideration that would measure the setback distance from the edge of the well pad instead of the wellhead, which could add hundreds of feet to the overall distance.
“It’s important to note also that while commissioners are talking about a 2,000-foot setback from one home, we’re also talking about more of a 2,300 to 2,400 foot setback because they’re considering changing how that setback is measured,” Haley said.
The COGCC rulemaking process will continue, with a final decision expected sometime in October.