State Response to Citizen Concerns Defends COGCC Approval of Extraction Permits

We just received a copy of this letter from the Department of Natural Resources (on behalf of the Governor) found here and also reprinted below.  It is a response to citizen concerns about the State’s approval of Extraction permits in letters sent to the Governor by community groups on June 11 and August 9.

Community groups are considering a response to several inaccuracies in the State’s letter.  The United Pad drilling permits are not yet approved by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC).

The community groups which signed the June 11 letter included 301 Broomfield Health and Safety First, Anthem Ranch Oil and Gas Education Group, Broomfield Clean Air and Water, Broomfield Moms Active Community, Broomfield Concerned:  A Coalition of Neighborhoods, League of Oil and Gas Impacted Coloradans, One Broomfield Indivisible, and Wildgrass Oil and Gas Committee.  The August 9 letter was signed by those groups along with Adams County Communities for Drilling Accountability Now and Front Range Residents for Environment, Safety and Health.

If you would like to respond to Department of Natural Resources Director Robert Randall, you can email him at robert.randall@state.co.us

 

August 22, 2018

Concerned Residents of Broomfield

c/o Anthem Ranch Community Association

16151 Lowell Blvd.

Broomfield, CO 80023

 

Dear Concerned Residents of Broomfield,

Thank you for your letters to Governor Hickenlooper, dated June 11 and August 9, 2018, regarding proposed oil and gas activities in the City and County of Broomfield. The Governor’s Office shared your letter with me and asked that I provide a response.

First, thank you for your engagement to date in the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission’s (COGCC) processes regarding proposed oil and gas operations by Extraction Oil & Gas Inc. (Extraction) in Broomfield. I have apreciated [sic] your thorough and thoughtful approach to these issues when you have appeared before the COGCC Commission, and I have also appreciated the opportunity to meet with you and other Broomfield representatives privately, both in the Governor’s Office and here at the Department of Natural Resources. In addition, I attended the Broomfield Public Meeting in October 2017 and learned more about perspectives on oil and gas activities in the community. I was also present for the Commission hearing on August 1, 2018, regarding surface location and well permits affecting Adams County residents. I very much appreciate your participation and input in these processes, and I believe that Extraction’s proposals are improved as a result.

As you are aware, the City and County of Broomfield and Extraction entered into a memorandum of understanding (Broomfield MOU) and surface use agreement on locations for oil and gas development on October 24, 2017 after many months of negotiation. COGCC was a party to neither that negotiation nor to the resulting MOU. A week later on October 31, 2017, the COGCC Commissioners held a hearing on Extraction’s spacing applications for these lands, approving them with a directive to staff to ensure that Extraction’s development plans “comport with” the Broomfield MOU. An Adams County Commissioner, Adams County staff, and several Adams County residents appeared at that hearing to object to the locations, contending that the locations approved in the Broomfield MOU resulted in unacceptable impacts on Adams County residents. As a direct result of their comments, COGCC Commissioners directed staff to hold a hearing on all oil and gas location and drilling permits that affect Adams County residents. This was an unprecedented action, wherein the Commission reserved for itself the authority to approve permits so that the concerns of the affected neighboring jurisdiction could be presented in a hearing.

In 2018, Extraction submitted to the COGCC applications for drilling and location permits for the five sites covered by the Broomfield MOU. Staff completed its review and approved one of the locations, the Livingston Pad, and associated wells in early June 2018. In July 2018, the COGCC staff completed its review of the permits for the remaining four locations and associated wells. Staff also scheduled a hearing for three of the locations (the Northwest A, Northwest B, and Interchange locations) and associated wells before COGCC Commissioners consistent with the October 31, 2017 directive.

Finally, on August 1, 2018, the COGCC Commission held a hearing on applications for locations and wells covered by the Broomfield MOU that could affect Adams County residents. This hearing included an hour of public comment during which three Adams County Commissioners provided comment. It also included formal testimony by Adams County staff and argument by Adams County counsel as well as robust answers to Commissioner questions. Prior to that hearing, Extraction relocated an access road in a manner that would minimize impacts to Adams County residents.

At this time, COGCC staff has completed its review of the remaining COGCC permits that would allow Extraction to develop oil and gas locations covered by the Broomfield MOU. With Broomfield’s approval of Extraction’s Comprehensive Drilling Plan with conditions on August 20, 2018, it would be inappropriate to delay further the approval of these permits.

Because your June 11 letter raised several issues regarding this process and oil and gas development in general, I offer the following response:

  • 1) Risk. When considering risk, the COGCC relies on existing regulatory requirements to protect public health, safety, welfare, and the environment through site-specific permit conditions, such as conditions of approval or best management practices, on each surface-use permit (Form 2A). This is what COGCC did for the Livingston pad and has completed for the additional pads in Broomfield. In part because site-specific conditions are more narrowly tailored to conditions at the site, COGCC does not rely on risk management reports prepared by operators.
  • 2) Accidents and Hazardous Incidents. In February 2018, the COGCC updated its accident reporting rules and form in response to requests from citizens and local governments. Stakeholders raised concerns that all injuries were not reportable, that the accident report form was vague, and that the process was not transparent. The revised rules require more specific information about reportable safety events, which broadens the types of accidents over those previously reported. The revised rules also require operators to report accidents within six hours and to submit additional information about the accident upon request of the COGCC Director. The new form implements these changes and has been modernized to integrate with COGCC’s database more effectively.
  • 3) Health and Safety for Large Scale Oil and Gas Development. Through the Governor’s Oil and Gas Task Force, Recommendation 17 resulted in a COGCC rulemaking to address local government collaboration with operators for oil and gas locations in urban mitigation areas (UMA). The rulemaking defined “Large UMA Facility” as an oil and gas location with more than eight wells, or on-site storage of 4,000 or more barrels, that are within an UMA. The rulemaking also imposed specific best management practices on these facilities. These rules built on previous rulemakings that imposed a 1,000-foot setback and best management practices within UMAs.
  • 4) MOU/Operator Agreements. The Commission order approving the spacing unit applications in Broomfield indeed provides that permits for development must comport with the Broomfield MOU, but Commission staff does not interpret “comport with” to mean “mirror.” COGCC staff reviewed the Broomfield MOU and incorporated all of its provisions that are within the agency’s jurisdiction and for which COGCC inspectors have expertise and can enforce, and it declined to incorporate those provisions outside of its jurisdiction and expertise. For example, the Broomfield MOU requires Extraction to complete an air modeling study that meets the City’s standards and demonstrates that emissions from the well sites will meet EPA Air emissions are not within COGCC’s jurisdiction and COGCC is not apprised of what standards the City required the study to satisfy. Because the Broomfield MOU is a private agreement subject to oversight by the courts, Broomfield has enforcement authority should it believe Extraction is not complying with its terms. Importantly, while the Oil and Gas Conservation Act prohibits COGCC from delegating authority to enforce the Act or the Commission’s rules, it does not preclude Broomfield from enforcing provisions of the Broomfield MOU that are outside of COGCC’s jurisdiction.
  • 5) Implementation of Recommendations 17 and 41 of Governor’s Oil and Gas Task Force. There was a robust process to implement Recommendation 17 from the Governor’s Task Force through months of meetings with parties, including Broomfield, followed by a thorough rulemaking proceeding conducted pursuant to the requirements of the Colorado Administrative Procedures Act. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is implementing the clearinghouse called for in Recommendation 41.

Again, thank you for your letter and opportunity for engagement on these serious issues.

Sincerely,

Robert Randall

Executive Director, Colorado Department of Natural Resources