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Colorado Formally Adopts Tougher Spill Rules

The nine-member Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (OGCC) on Tuesday unanimously approved new rules for reporting oil/natural gas spills, characterizing the new regulations as "significantly tightening" the volume threshold for reportable releases of oil or exploration/production (E&P) waste.

OGCC's action put in place a new law passed earlier in the year by the Colorado state legislature (HB 13-1278), an addition to natural resource statutes (see Shale Daily, Aug. 15). The new law took effect Aug. 7.

"The new rules continue to require reporting within 24 hours for any spill that impacts or threatens to impact waters in the state, any occupied structure, livestock, a public byway or surface water supply area," while providing tighter requirements for reporting all other spills, OGCC said.

Besides volume levels, a clear distinction is made between spills that are kept within secondary containment areas and those that are outside those areas.

Any spill of five barrels or more has to be reported within 24 hours under the new rules. In addition, any spill of one barrel or more that occurs outside the secondary containment must be reported within 24 hours. The previous threshold for each was 20 bbl spills, and those between five and 20 bbl could be reported within 10 days.

OGCC Director Matt Lepore said the new requirements "improve our ability to track and respond to spills and releases across Colorado," and he added that the rules should improve the confidence of state residents regarding the agency's ability to protect public health, safety and the environment.

Colorado currently has about 51,000 active natural gas and oil wells. The toughened reporting requirements for spills at drill sites are expected to inflate the annual numbers on oil spills in the state. This year there were 241 reported spills through July and 2,475 reported by E&P operators since 2008.

When the legislature passed HB 13-1278 an OGCC spokesperson acknowledged that with the lower threshold reporting limit, the spill numbers might increase. However, there continues to be the danger of larger spills, such as one at Parachute Creek earlier (see Daily GPI, April 1).

Even before the lower spill threshold went into effect, Colorado had one of the lowest reporting thresholds in the nation, and most releases continue to be relatively small and confined to the site, according to the industry-led Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA).

"COGA has supported the rulemaking from its initiation in the legislature," Doug Flanders, COGA policy and external affairs director, told NGI's Shale Daily. "This rule is another important step in providing the public transparency and confidence in our industry."

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