A voluntary first-in-the-nation effort to start a baseline groundwater quality sampling program before and after drilling was announced Tuesday as a joint effort among oil/gas producers, Gov. John Hickenlooper and the state Department of Natural Resources at an annual energy conference in Denver hosted by the Colorado Oil & Gas Association (COGA).

It emerged at the opening of COGA’s Energy Epicenter Conference in the keynote remarks by Hickenlooper, announcing a program designed to address groundwater quality concerns throughout the state that are associated with the drilling and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) of oil and gas wells. The concerns have grown nationally with the shale oil/gas boom and the growing debate about fracking.

Industry players from the majors to the independents increasingly have found a need to clarify the risks and rewards of fracking technology in unleashing abundant domestic energy supplies.

Under the program oil/gas operators drilling wells on new pads will collect groundwater samples before and after drilling. Data will be provided to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, which will manage a central database for the state. Ultimately, COGA and the commission will prepare a report summarizing participation and findings.

COGA CEO Tisha Conoly Schuller reported 90% participation from the oil/gas industry at the start with a goal of eventually making that 100% with the unanimous support of its board.

“The oil and gas industry plays a critical role in Colorado’s economy and is an essential partner in protecting the environment,” said Hickenlooper, adding that the voluntary program should add “transparency and accountability” to a concern that has grown of late.

Both Hickenlooper and state Department of Natural Resources Director Mike King commended COGA for approaching the state governmental leaders with the new program. The governor lauded the association’s “efforts toward creating greater confidence in groundwater quality,” and King said the industry was showing “important leadership” in coming up with an “innovative approach to groundwater protection.”

King said the work “reflects efforts to work collaboratively and transparently with the oil/gas commission and the public.”

Conservation Commission Director David Neslin said the program “will add to the data we have previously collected on more than 5,000 water wells in the state and assist us in addressing groundwater quality concerns associated with hydraulic fracturing.”

Speaking for COGA’s board and Anadarko Petroleum Corp., where he is a marketing vice president, Scott Moore said the industry is aware that citizens would like more “assurance that their groundwater is not being impacted. We are proud to put forward the first program in the country.”

In addition to Anadarko, 19 other producers in Colorado have agreed to participate, COGA said. There are more than a dozen contingencies to the program, including the fact that it applies to all newly developed or new expansions of wells or pads — not existing wells or pads; it must be approved by the applicable landowner(s); sampling will be done in accordance with a pre-set COGA plan approved by the conservation commission; and post-drilling samples will be conducted within a one- to three-year period.

The voluntary participants are: Anadarko; Antero Resources; Bill Barrett Corp.; Bonanza Creek Energy Operating Co.; BP America; Chesapeake Energy Corp.; El Paso E&P; Encana Oil & Gas (USA); EOG Resources; Gunnison Energy; HRM Resources; KP Kaufmann; Marathon Oil Co.; Noble Energy; Oxy USA; PDC Energy; Pioneer Natural Resources Quicksilver Resources; Quicksilver Resources Inc.; Whiting Oil and Gas Corp.; and Williams Production RMT Co.