- Associated Press - Saturday, January 2, 2016

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (AP) - Colorado regulators are debating how to deal with idle natural gas drilling pads because of a slump in energy prices, and new rules may be needed to deal with the issues.

Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission member Richard Alward said there is a stepped-up focus on the issue, and the agency’s reclamation rules are outdated.

The current rules don’t require companies to document a site’s vegetation before disturbing it and restore it to its previous condition, Alward said. He said state regulation of the industry needs to meet the same requirements set for coal mines.

“I think given our understanding of ecological processes and services that functioning ecosystems provide to people and wildlife, we shouldn’t be trailing behind coal mining regulations from the 1980s,” Alward said.

A report by the commission found that about 45,000 wells are eligible for final reclamation, and nearly 60 percent have passed final reclamation inspection.

There are still about 18,500 locations that the agency needs to inspect, including about 12,000 sites with wells that either were dry from the start, or produced before being plugged. Another 6,500 remaining sites are what the commission calls abandoned locations, sites that were never drilled, the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel reported (https://tinyurl.com/hqe6zrp).

Margaret Ash, manager of the agency’s field inspection unit, said the agency’s rules are rigorous, but some rules need to be clarified, including properly protecting topsoil and addressing weed control. There are also issues with reclamation waiver requests from surface owners and requiring commitments for reclamation to begin.

Alward said he understands and supports the agency’s desire to prioritize acting on issues directly affecting the public health, safety and welfare, but he said reclamation is also important.

Supporters of the new rules say they prevent growth of weeds that can spread into a farmer’s fields or pose a wildfire threat, and they could also promote the growth of wildflowers needed by bees and other pollinators important to agriculture. Pads can also be converted back to cropland and provide habitat for wildlife.


Information from: The Daily Sentinel, https://www.gjsentinel.com

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