Your Questions Answered on Colorado Oil and Gas Industry Regulations

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The Colorado legislature passed Senate Bill 181 in 2019, which fundamentally changed the mission of Colorado oil and gas regulators to protect public health and safety above industry profits. This year, the work continues as the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission interprets and implements Senate Bill 181, making rules that will determine the most significant impacts on the lives of Coloradans

The Commission is taking precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but they haven’t stopped working to implement Senate Bill 181 and ensure that, when it comes to oil and gas drilling, Coloradans’ health and safety comes first. Beau Kiklis, Conservation Colorado’s public lands advocate, explained the impacts of the Commission’s recent change to their rulemaking schedule, and offered suggestions for how to continue to support a healthy future for Colorado.

On April 29th, the Commission announced that they would postpone their Mission Change rulemaking hearings. What are the details of that announcement, and what does it mean for Coloradans?

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Commission determined that it would postpone its Mission Change rulemaking until later this summer, when they will have hired a full-time, professionalized commission. Under this new timeline, we anticipate that the new COGCC Mission Change rules will take effect by November 1, 2020 – only six weeks later than under the initial timeline.

So this is a good change? 

While we would have preferred to see the rules completed more promptly, we recognize the toll the ongoing public health crisis has had on all of us. Regardless of this new timeline, the Mission Change rulemaking will be a watershed event that prioritizes the health and safety of all Colorado residents as well as the state’s environment and wildlife.

With an extended timeline, should we expect any additional rules or hearings? 

The Commission has determined that the extended schedule gives them ample time to include three new rules series to address wildlife protections, the impacts of energy and production waste on our climate, air quality, and environment, and underground storage. 

The Commission also agreed to host a special hearing in May to discuss its orphan well program.

What are orphan wells and why will they receive a special hearing?

Orphan wells are old oil and gas wells that were abandoned and left to the state without being properly closed or “shut-in.” Improper closure leaves public health hazards at orphan well sites, such as old industrial equipment, unreclaimed lands, potentially toxic emissions causing air pollution, impacts to water quality, and wildlife. Wells are often orphaned when companies go bankrupt or disregard state rules when they are finished producing at a given site.

As the economic situation of the oil and gas industry worsens, we are concerned about the industry’s ability to properly abandon wells and the Commission’s ability to administer its orphan well program. 

How can I stay involved through changes to the Commission’s Mission Change rulemaking schedule?

You can still submit a written comment to the Commission to speak up for the health and safety of Colorado’s communities, wildlife and environment. The Commission will be looking for input from the community on each round of rules. From now until August 24th, you will have many chances to share your perspective. The next round of rules will be released in just a few weeks, so stay tuned for another opportunity.