The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) has drafted proposed rules for sampling and monitoring groundwater before and after new wells are drilled, as well as changes to setbacks, which formalizes some procedures that the industry had begun voluntarily last year (see Shale Daily, Aug. 4, 2011).

On Tuesday the COGCC examined the revised rules and listened to mixed reaction to the proposals from various stakeholders. COGCC plans to make a final decision about the revisions at a Jan. 9 hearing.

The CEO of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA) told NGI‘s Shale Daily on Wednesday that talks among the stakeholders are continuing and an agreement on some of the issues that are contentious could be in place before the January meeting. Tuesday’s discussions examined the relative merits of well setbacks ranging from 1,000 to 350 feet.

“We are working with a broad coalition of stakeholders — farmers, ranchers, mineral owners, small businesses and chambers — to emphasize the complexity of such a [setback] rule, said COGA CEO Tisha Conoly Schuller, citing her group’s support for a holistic approach. “The setback distance of an oil and gas well from an occupied building involves legal, property, regulatory and technical considerations, with results affecting surface owner, mineral owner, operator, agricultural, home builder and local government interests. Setbacks, properly considered, are much more than simply the distance, but encompass the notice, engagement and mitigation measures involved in oil and gas development.”

On the proposed water rules, COGCC wants exploration and production (E&P) operators provide up to four water samples before drilling in a half-mile radius of the well site, and two after the drilling starts. At present, there is a proposed exemption for companies operating in a broad area north of Denver. The COGCC director would have the ability to exempt some E&Ps if it made “scientific sense.” The director also could request additional sampling by some E&Ps “if changes in water quality are identified during subsequent monitoring.”

Stakeholders discussed the issues in private session on Monday. Experts testifying before the COGCC reportedly emphasized that most contamination is caused by surface spills around storage tanks and initial drilling, and not from deep well bores during hydraulic fracturing. Groundwater impact often is from surface activity, and Colorado officials want to establish baselines to determine when impacts may occur.

COGA has offered alternatives regarding the draft water rules that if adopted would represent the strongest in the nation, according to COGA’s Schuller.

“We trust that all parties are putting their best ideas forward in good faith and for the good of the state and its citizens, [but] we truly hope that someone’s view of perfect doesn’t become the enemy of good,” Schuller said. “We are hopeful that we can all agree that a new mandatory groundwater program is a win for Colorado.”