Colorado’s oil production last year passed the 40 million bbl mark for the first time in 50 years, while natural gas and coalbed methane (CBM) production were down in the face of stubbornly low prices, according to preliminary data from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC).

For oil production, last year was robust considering the preliminary figures had hit 41.7 million bbl on Wednesday with three more weeks left for operators to report 2012 totals. The final total will be higher yet, something that does not surprise either state or industry officials. Oil output in 2011 was 39.1 million bbl.

For natural gas, preliminary statistics put 2012 production well below recent years. As of Wednesday, gas and CBM output in 2012 stood at 1.478 Tcf, well below 1.697 Tcf in 2011 and earlier figures that have been higher than 1.5 Tcf since 2008.

State Geologic Survey records dating back to 1960 last showed Colorado oil production above 40 million bbl in 1962 when the annual total was 42.5 million bbl.

Technological advances have made possible the once unfathomable production levels in the state, COGCC Director Matt Lepore told the Denver Business Journal. He said the agency’s challenge is to facilitate “important energy development” while still protecting the environment and the state’s landowners.

The jump in oil output was attributed to increased drilling in western Colorado’s Niobrara formation, which includes Weld County. That one county accounted for nearly three-quarters (30.5 million bbl) of 2012 oil production, according to the COGCC.

Separately, the COGCC is scheduled to meet Thursday in Denver to finalize oil and natural gas drilling setback rules that were hammered out in public hearings. Members took a provisional nonbinding 7-2 vote Jan. 9 and agreed to complete the new rules this week (see Shale Daily, Jan. 11). New setback requirements would have a significant impact on exploration and production operators, along with a new water sampling rule finalized Jan. 7.