COGCC Will Not Pause Permits But Will Give Them “Greater Scrutiny”

Stating that a ban is contrary to the intent of SB19-181 Protect Public Welfare Oil And Gas Operations, Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) Director Jeff Robbins made it clear at the COGCC’s May 21 meeting that the COGCC will continue to process permits while engaging in rulemaking.  He said that the COGCC will give permits “greater scrutiny” under the interim Director’s Objective Criteria Guidance  issued on May 16, to be used until rulemaking is completed.

Majority of the public comments at this first meeting since the signing of SB19-181 requested that the COGCC pause permitting.  On May 13,Colorado Rising, WildEarth Guardians and local community groups sent letters to Gov. Polis, the CDPHE and the COGCC to ask them to pause oil and gas permitting until SB19-181 is fully enacted. 

Industry representatives also made comments that they needed permits to continue to move forward, along with a stable regulatory environment.  Director Dan Gibbs of the Department of Natural Resources, which oversees the COGCC, reinforced COGCC Director Robbins’ statement that it was never the intent of SB19-181 to pause permitting.

During public comments, Wes Wilson noted that the COGCC had permitted 39 wells in Weld County without hearings since the passage of SB19-181.  Thorton resident Abbey Palte pointed out that neither Adams County nor Thorton currently had oil and gas attorneys to help their local governments revise their oil and gas regulations.  Commerce City resident Susan Noble stated that there were two more oil and gas proposals submitted for Commerce City since the passage of SB19-181, bringing a total of at least 220 wells in 30 square miles.  

Broomfield resident Jean Lim (author) called the Commissioners’ attention to a carcinogenic, odorous drilling mud being used by Extraction at the Interchange Pad and asked if this oil based drilling mud could be prohibited with alternatives identified in order to protect the health and safety of workers on the pad and residents who live near it. She also pointed to COGCC Notices of Alleged Violations (NOAVs) against Extraction  that had been listed on the June COGCC enforcement docket, including one involving Extraction’s violation of a BMP attached to its Form 2A where Extraction admitted they used the wrong traffic route near Bella Romero School.  She stated that Extraction continued to violate traffic routes near their Interchange Pad in Broomfield.  

Five new COGCC Commissioners introduced themselves, including Mark Hopkins of Broomfield.  Mr. Hopkins outlined a 30-year professional career with Chevron, including oil and gas technological development, environmental technical development, regulatory affairs in California, and legislative policy making in Washington, DC.  He pointed to his work with the Broomfield Task Force as the highlight of his career, stating he was “a big fan of having local government get more authority” and that “our city council was often frustrated at their lack of authority.”  These new volunteer commissioners are charged by SB19-181 with completing rulemaking by July 2020, when the paid professional commissioners will be put in place.

Director Robbins set forth a tentative outline for rulemaking, noting that this was the timeline developed by the Staff who would welcome further suggestions from the Commissioners and public.  The draft timeline was:

1) 500 series – June 17, 2019

2) Flowlines – Fall 2019

3) Application Fees – Fall 2019

4) Alternate Site Analysis – Fall 2019

5) Local Government Provisions – Fall 2019

6) Technical Review Board – Fall 2019

7) Cumulative Impacts – Spring 2020

8) Public Health, Safety and Welfare – Late Spring 2020  

During Staff afternoon presentations, Director Robbins stated that SB19-181 applied to “all conduct pending before the COGCC,” including applications for Drilling Spacing Units.  He stated that the COGCC had 24 FTEs which would add inspectors, a toxicologist and deputy director, among others.  He is holding monthly meetings with local governments to inform them about their new authority under SB19-181.

During an enforcement presentation, Enforcement Supervisor Jeremy Ferrin stated that there are currently 140 Notices of Alleged Violations in the cue waiting to be processed at the COGCC.  There were 125 NOAVs issues in 2018.

COGCC Director of Permitting Jane Stanczyk went over new pooling requirements, which include the operator proving it had secured 45% of the mineral acreage in the spacing unit.  She also said that mineral owners need to receive a “reasonable, good faith offer to lease.”

During a lunch break, the COGCC also held an Executive Session which included a discussion of the Wildgrass Oil and Gas Committee federal constitutional lawsuit v. COGCC and City and County of Broomfield v. COGCC, Crestone Peak Resources Operating,LLC, and Kjersti Drott, Denver District Court, Case No. 18CV33663.

The May docket had listed numerous hearings which were set to go forward but they were not heard.  They were not yet marked as continued to the June hearings and COGCC Hearings Manager Mimi Larsen said they were temporarily taken off the website. 

You can watch Part 1 of the COGCC meeting here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xN5lXMFP1U8&feature=youtu.be

Part 2 here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dpQdq7Pi8rI&feature=youtu.be