A voluntary first-of-its-kind groundwater sampling program was launched this month by Colorado's energy industry to "proactively" address concerns associated with drilling and hydraulic fracturing.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, the state's Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the industry's Colorado Oil & Gas Association (COGA) together planned the baseline sampling program. Natural gas and oil operators that drill wells on new pads would collect groundwater samples before and after drilling. The data then would be provided to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), which would manage it in a central database and annually prepare a joint report.

"The oil and gas industry plays a critical role in Colorado's economy and is an essential partner in protecting the environment," said Hickenlooper. "This new groundwater testing program will increase transparency and accountability."

COGA Chairman Scott Moore, who also is vice president of marketing of Anadarko Petroleum Corp., said the program was the first of its kind in the nation designed to ensure that groundwater data was collected before and after wells were completed. The energy industry, said Moore, "recognizes that our neighbors would like to see assurance that their groundwater is not being impacted by drilling operations."

COGA CEO Tisha Conoly Schuller said she was "encouraged" by industry's participation, which already is at 90%.

In addition to Anadarko, other operators that have agreed to participate include Antero Resources, Bill Barrett Corp., Bonanza Creek Energy Operating Co., BP America, Chesapeake Energy Corp., El Paso Corp., Encana Oil & Gas (USA), EOG Resources Inc., Gunnison Energy, HRM Resources, KP Kaufmann, Marathon Oil Co., Noble Energy Inc., Oxy USA, PDC Energy, Pioneer Natural Resources, Quicksilver Resources Inc., Whiting Oil and Gas Corp. and Williams Production RMT Co.

"Our goal is to have every operator in Colorado participate," Schuller said. "With further outreach and the unanimous support of our board, we are confident that operators will see the value in participating in COGA's program. The positive response by our members acknowledges how important it is that we demonstrate that we are protecting the quality of Colorado's groundwater."

The program would apply to all newly developed or new expansions of wells or pads, not existing wells or pads. It also would be contingent upon landowner-approved access. Operators would collect samples under a sampling and analysis plan approved by the COGCC that would require sampling at two downgradient groundwater features within a one-half-mile radius of the surface location of the proposed oil and gas well pad. Post-drilling sampling would be conducted within a one- to three-year period.

In the event of a complaint from a water well owner located within one-half mile of the well pad, the operator would "make its best efforts to collect a sample within 48 hours after being notified of a complaint alleging a distinct, identifiable change in water quality (such as odor, color, taste or turbidity)." Within three months of collecting the water sample(s), the landowner would be notified of the testing and analyses completed. Landowners also would be required to allow the laboratory results to be submitted to the operator, COGCC and any other regulatory agencies.

Groundwater sampling data would be available to the public, including operators, on the COGCC website. The data would be posted within two weeks of electronic submittal to the COGCC. The COGCC database would be used to assist operators in conducting the sampling program and to characterize and evaluate trends in groundwater quality within different basins in Colorado.

DNR Director Mike King commended COGA for approaching the governor's administration about the "innovative approach" and said the program "shows important leadership from the industry and reflects its efforts to work collaboratively and transparently with the oil and gas commission and the public."

COGCC staff has reviewed the details of the program, and Director David Neslin said he was confident that it would be a "strong addition" to groundwater monitoring across the state. "It will add to the data we have previously collected on more than 5,000 water wells in the state and assist us in addressing ground water quality concerns associated with hydraulic fracturing," Neslin said.