Colorado stakeholders in an ongoing voluntary water testing program related to oil and natural gas extraction activity support a statewide mandatory program, they said earlier this month, two days after the state government held its first public hearing on a proposed baseline groundwater monitoring program.

The loose coalition, including the Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA) and agricultural and industrial associations, urged the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) to develop “a pragmatic statewide groundwater testing program.”

Acknowledging a growing concern about ground water in cities and towns near exploration and production (E&P) activity, COGA CEO Tisha Schuller said that if the state’s precedent-setting voluntary program is adopted by COGCC as mandatory, the Colorado’s requirements for groundwater protection “would surpass all other state requirements across the country in both scientific rigor and transparency.”

The coalition issued a “fact sheet” supporting a statewide sampling program, drawing on what the state put in place last year as part of the voluntary effort for basin-specific water testing programs, which have resulted in a certain amount of public confidence in the E&P operators’ ability to help protect groundwater (see Daily GPI, Aug. 29, 2011).

The program was jointly launched by Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, the state’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and COGA last year as a program for the energy industry to “proactively” address concerns associated with drilling and hydraulic fracturing. Under the program, gas and oil operators that drill wells on new pads collect groundwater samples before and after drilling, providing the data to COGCC, which was designated to manage the effort in a central database and annually prepare a joint report.

In its fact sheet, the stakeholder coalition stressed that there has been more than a decade’s worth of water quality data from southwest Colorado, all of which is publicly available and has been analyzed by third parties. The stakeholders said this indicated “extensive oil/gas drilling had been done in harmony with groundwater projection.” They cited La Plata County, which since 2000 has conducted robust water well testing involving more than 1,300 wells and 3,500 samples.

The voluntary program begun by the oil/gas industry this year has involved 93% of the wells drilled in Colorado.

The coalition said that Colorado’s voluntary program is the only one in the nation providing post-drilling sampling requirements. “This coalition believes that any new rule should build off of these successes without unnecessarily hampering energy development with excessive requirements.”