New COGCC fracking rules fail to protect public from toxic air and water pollution
By Lauren Swain, RMC Oil & Gas Campaign Communications Specialist
The Colorado Oil and Gas Conversation Committee (COGCC) recently completed three days of hearings on proposed new rules governing hydraulic fracturing (fracking) practices in Colorado.
The commission adopted its heavily-criticized groundwater testing program and gave preliminary approval to new setback rules requiring that, with some exceptions, wells be sited at least 500 feet from homes and 1000 feet from high-occupancy buildings such as schools and hospitals. Previously, the state required setbacks of only 350 feet in urban areas and 150 feet in rural areas. The new rules will apply equally in all areas.
Superficial improvements in the COGCC rules are overshadowed by the major flaws outlined below. Sierra Club will continue to demand that the Commission establish serious regulations to protect public health from toxic air and water pollution caused by dangerous drilling and fracking practices.
The proposed rules fail to protect the public in these ways, among others:
1) The rules do not provide for comprehensive, preventative groundwater testing regimens.
The Environmental Defense Fund testified that the new rules are not based on sound science, and that even Shell Oil and the Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA) have better protocols for groundwater testing and analysis. Also, in this article, Routt County officials expressed their disappointment that the rules do not require monitoring wells to be placed between oil wells and water wells so as to provide notification of problems before any water wells become contaminated. And, perhaps most importantly, an even weaker testing regime will apply to the 25 percent of wells in Colorado located in the Greater Wattenberg Area (GWA), which is mostly in Weld County, but includes portions of Boulder, Adams, and Larimer counties. The commission rejected Boulder County’s request to have its portion of the GWA held to the more rigorous testing regime.
2) The proposed 500-foot setbacks from wells to homes, (and up to 1000 feet from wells to schools, hospitals and other high-occupancy dwellings), are NOT based on scientific health studies to determine an adequate safe distance from wells to residential areas and other areas of special concern.
Because of the spills, methane and VOC emissions and groundwater contamination that frequently accompany drilling and fracking, the Sierra Club and its partners are insisting on a setback of 2000’ plus an additional 100’ per well bore on the pad.
3) The rules do not close the “setback loophole,” an exemption in the current Rule 602(d) stating: “Existing ‘completed’ wells are exempt from the provisions of these regulations as they relate to the location of the well.”
This exemption allows any “completed” well to be re-entered and re-drilled regardless of proximity to a structure. There are now approximately 4,000 active oil and gas wells that are closer to residential structures than the current COGCC setback mandate of 350’. If this loophole is not eliminated, there could eventually be tens of thousands of wells re-entered and fracked closer to residential structures than the state setback mandates. Please read our press release regarding the setback loophole at this link.
4) The rules grandfather-in existing wells within the new setback distance, and exclude them from groundwater testing requirements. Existing wells within the new setback buffers should be required to cease operations within a predetermined amount of time.
5) The rules do not allow local governments to set their own standards for fracking practices or to ban the practice in residential areas.
Additionally the new rules do nothing to provide for adequate staffing of our state oil and gas inspection team, which currently has only 17 inspectors to monitor 45,000+ wells, and could be funded by with a new surcharge on operators. The rules do not require the industry to reduce, eliminate, or phase out the use of extremely toxic chemicals such as benzene and toluene. And the rules do not address the hazardous disposal of millions of gallons of toxic “produced water” in holding ponds that evaporate into the air and have the potential to leak, or in injection wells that are associated with an increased risk of earthquakes.
We look forward to working with Colorado’s state legislature in its new session to address some of these huge oversights in the COGCC rulemaking process.
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