Colorado’s regulatory arm for the energy industry on Monday formally set itself on a new path to prioritize public health and safety, and the environment when making decisions on oil and gas drilling permits.
The changes to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission are the result of Senate Bill 181, which was passed by the legislature and signed into law by Gov. Jared Polis in April 2019. The bill ordered the panel to realign its rules with the new mission of “regulating” oil and gas, while considering impacts on the surrounding geography, instead of “fostering” its development.
Monday marked the end of a months-long process that, before the coronavirus pandemic arrived in Colorado, was expected to conclude over the summer. The changes include a requirement that most new drilling be set back at least 2,000 feet from homes and schools, which the oil and gas industry fiercely opposed.
“This has been a long, exhaustive and exhausting process for all involved,” Dan Haley, president and CEO of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, said in a written statement. “It has been, at times, contentious, tedious, illuminating and frustrating, but ultimately, we were grateful to take part in the process, to engage stakeholders throughout our great state and to work toward reasonable solutions.”
For the first time, the commission will also consider environmental justice in its decisions and involve communities in the permitting process for wells that would be nearby. A 2019 study from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment found that in some worst-case scenarios, residents may experience short-term health impacts due to carcinogens released from wells within 2,000 feet of their homes
The commission in September increased the minimum setback of new drilling from existing homes and schools from 500 feet. There are exceptions, but in general, an application to drill closer than 2,000 feet will be denied.
“It is a new day for impacted Coloradans, where they have a voice in the impacts and risks that they face,” Sara Loflin, executive director of the League of Oil and Gas Impacted Coloradans, said in a written statement.