Last year the Colorado General Assembly passed groundbreaking legislation to change the mission and focus of the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission, or the COGCC. The COGCC is the state regulatory body that oversees oil and gas development from permitting to drilling to reclamation. SB-181 – Protect Public Health and Welfare Oil & Gas Operations – “prioritizes the protection of public safety, health, welfare, and the environment in the regulation of the oil and gas industry by modifying the oil and gas statutes and by clarifying, reinforcing, or establishing various aspects of local governments’ regulatory authority over the surface impacts of oil and gas development.” This ground-breaking legislation was signed into law by Governor Polis on April 16, 2019.
What did SB-181 Actually Do and Why Are We “Rulemaking”?
One of the primary changes enacted by SB-181 was changing the mission of the state regulatory body from “fostering” to “regulating” the oil & gas industry. This change puts the people of the State of Colorado at the heart of the COGCC’s mission, not the industries. Thus, SB-181 ensures the COGCC prioritizes public health, safety and environmental concerns at the center of their focus. Additionally, SB-181 also enables local governments to have increased oversight of land use related oil and gas activities in their communities. However, SB-181 did not declare a “moratorium” on oil & gas development nor did it stop the processing of permits.
In order to put SB-181 into full effect, the bill called for “rulemakings” to put the bill into practice. The Rulemakings specifically focus on implementing the new public health, safety, and environmental priorities of the COGCC, updated flowline rules, alternative site analysis, cumulative impact rulemaking, and address how the COGCC will work with and assist local governments. The rulemakings started in Summer of 2019 and while the official process is slightly complex, there are several simple opportunities for the public to provide written and oral feedback to help shape the new rules.
Where are we at now?
There are 4 topics considered during rulemakings scheduled in the coming months: Alternative Location Analysis, Cumulative Impacts, Mission Change, and Wellbore Integrity. COGCC’s website provides a brief introduction to these topics. Additionally, in response to growing concern around the oil & gas market decline, the COGCC will hold a special meeting in May to discuss Orphan Wells (abandoned wells left to the state to properly shut-in).
The COGCC voted to pause the rulemaking process due to the ongoing COVID pandemic. Wellbore Integrity hearing is scheduled for June 10-11. The Mission Change, Cumulative Impacts, and Alternative Location Analysis are scheduled in a combined hearing starting in Summer 2020. The COGCC is accepting feedback on the draft rules by May 15.
How Can I Get Involved?!
There will be many other opportunities to provide your input between now and August. The rulemakings provide the opportunity for community members to provide oral testimony at rulemaking hearings. We are looking for western slope voices to add to the support for better regulations to protect public health, safety, welfare, the environment, and wildlife! Contact Patrick to learn more.
Where is this all heading?
The COGCC aims to have the rulemakings finalized and new rules that reflect the goals of SB-181 in adoption by November 2020.