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Colorado Regulators Delay Fracking Rules Action

Amid cries for Stronger safeguards regarding the public disclosure of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing (fracking), the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) on Monday put off for a week or more finalizing the state's proposed new rules on disclosing fracking chemicals used in oil and gas shale fracking operations. COGCC heard more than 11 hours of testimony in Denver.

No one sounded entirely satisfied, but COGCC Director David Neslin told local news media he supports the current proposed position of allowing operators to protect trade secrets while disclosing which chemicals are used. Neslin also argued that the proposed rules could be strengthened and "fine-tuned" in the future.

Environmental and public health officials, along with some local elected officials in Colorado, want tougher rules to guard against groundwater supplies being contaminated from the chemicals used in fracking.

The Colorado commission's current assessment of the issue comes at a time when at least two major federal agencies -- the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Interior -- are looking at future rules guiding fracking and general shale development, along with state and local officials (at least two Colorado cities have established their own fracking reporting requirements) debating the best approach.

COGCC is being urged to require predisclosure on the fracking chemicals, something critics say Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper advocated last summer, but Neslin cautioned that because companies often change fracking formulas right up until the time chemical mixtures are actually injected into the ground, current proposed rules don't require predisclosure from the operating companies.

Neslin also was reported to have told news media that in regard to protecting public health and the environment fracking is only one tool, according to a report in the Colorado Independent. "We have other tools to provide more direct protection," he said at the commission meeting Monday.

Current Colorado rules require lists of drilling chemicals to be maintained onsite at well sites and turned over when requested within 24 hours to emergency responders. There is also a voluntary program for operators to use in disclosing chemicals on the Internet (www.fracfocus.org), but critics contend that it is sparsely used. In reaction, the cities of Grand Junction and Palisade, CO, have adopted their own predisclosure requirements for chemicals used in drilling within their city boundaries.

The COGCC's current effort is to develop statewide rules that will transcend all of these other efforts to provide more statewide transparency on the chemicals used. Several governors nationally have argued that regulation of hydraulic fracturing should be left to each individual state.

Separately, the State Review of Oil and Natural Gas Environmental Regulations (Stronger) has made a few minor recommendations for Colorado's existing (fracking) regulations, but concluded that overall the program is well managed and contains some strengths the shale gas industry would find noteworthy (see Shale Daily, Nov. 23).

In its 33-page report, Stronger lauded the COGCC for enacting rules (205 and 341) that respectively require operators to inventory chemicals kept at well sites during operations, and to monitor and record pressure during fracking operations, with operators reporting readings greater than 200 psig to the state agency. COGCC also received high marks for its management staff and website, and for conducting its own in-house review of fracking regulations in 2008.

But Stronger recommended that Colorado enact minimum and maximum surface casing depths, review notification requirements to field inspectors and have the COGCC and the state Division of Water Resources work together to find water sources for fracking.

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