This week the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission conducted three days of public hearings on proposed revisions to its oil and gas well rules to address concerns posed by increased hydraulic fracturing activity.  As part of those hearings, the Commission took several key actions that will affect future shale drilling operations statewide.

First, on Monday the Commission adopted new rules requiring drillers of hydraulically fractured wells to test nearby groundwater both before and after drilling.  Colorado is the first state to require drillers to sample groundwater after hydraulic fracturing activities occur, and the third to adopt a groundwater sampling program for such wells.  Specifically, the rules require well operators to collect multiple baseline groundwater samples within a half-mile of a new oil or gas well before drilling or re-stimulation begins.  Six to twelve months after drilling activity is complete, well operators must again obtain groundwater samples from the same locations.  Additional sampling is required between five and six years after well completion.  The new rules do not apply to certain wells north of Denver in the Wattenberg Field drilling areas; a different water sampling rule requiring just one pre-drilling and one post-drilling sample will apply there.

On Wednesday, the last day of its public hearings, the Commission then took two significant steps:
  1. It increased setback requirements for wells from 350 feet to 500 feet from occupied buildings, and preliminarily approved a proposal that would require wells drilled within 1,000 feet of occupied buildings to meet new standards on noise, odor, dust, spill protection, and air emissions.
  2. It announced the launch this summer of a study concerning the character and behavior of emissions from area oil and gas operations.  The study will be conducted in conjunction with Colorado State University and will occur in phases, with the first phase lasting through mid-2016.  A health risk assessment will be developed thereafter as the study’s second phase.  Initial funding of $1.3 million for the study will come from the Commission’s Environmental Response Fund, which is funded by proceeds from oil and gas development.

Media coverage of the Commission’s activity this week can be found here, here, here, here, and here.