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When Will Local Governments Have a Say on Oil and Gas Operations?

Last year, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper called together a task force to come to a compromise allowing greater local control on gas and oil drilling in more populated areas. Their initial purpose was to head off ballot measures as well as community bans on drilling, handing over two of its key recommendations to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) to craft detailed rules. New state rules giving local governments a greater say on oil and gas activity near populated areas were supposed to pave the way to a middle ground on the divisive issue. However, after months of effort, there is still no resolution to the issue of when local regulations will apply.

According to the COGCC, a large-scale oil and gas operation is defined as one with 90,000 feet of wellbore length or with storage for production, not including waste water, of 4,000 barrels. Tripping either threshold allows local governments a say on the placement of well pads and provides residents nearby with more rigorous protections regarding emissions, noise, and fire control. As currently drafted, however, this is only applicable within urban mitigation areas, which are defined as areas where gas and oil operations are within 1,000 feet of a large facility like a hospital or school or more than 22 homes.

A task force member who has drafted the local-control recommendation apologized for any confusion he may have inadvertently caused, saying that his intent was to create thresholds at half the level proposed and for the safeguards to apply outside of urban areas if residences are close enough to be at risk.

The director of the COGCC remarked that 4,000 in storage is only roughly half the space needed in the absence of a pipeline when drilling 90,000 feet.

The Colorado Farm Bureau and the Colorado Association of Home Builders requested that the COGCC to allow landowners a say when local governments and operators discussed the siting of oil and gas facilities. Some Colorado counties have also argued that they should be given the same power that towns and cities receive when new rules are put into place.

Frustrated with the proposed rules, one environmental group requested that the commissioners to drop their rule-making entirely. Lauren Swain, of 350 Colorado, said "We request that the rules be withdrawn and tabled, to avoid further harm to local democracy, public health and safety, and to the climate.” Her group, which is primarily focused on global warming, aims at pushing legislation that would disband the COGCC, replacing it with two new agencies that would protect public health and safety from existing oil and gas activity and promote the transition to alternative energy resources.

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