The state government in Colorado announced that it enacted some of the most stringent laws related to oil and natural gas operations in the country. New regulations require energy companies to conduct before-and-after samples of groundwater wells in the state to determine what impact, if any, exploration has on water quality. The rules follow a decision by the U.S. government to wait another 8 months before it closes the comment period for a study on the possible contamination of water supplies from fracking operations in Wyoming. While Colorado officials cloaked their statements in cautious language, the regulations suggest lawmakers are starting to catch up with the debate over the U.S. oil and natural boom
The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation agency announced it crafted rules that require energy companies to sample as many as four water wells within a half mile of new oil and natural gas operations prior to drilling. After that, two more samples are required within a year and again within six years of drilling in order to determine what sort of impact oil and natural gas operations have on water supplies.
"This rule represents a strong, proactive step to monitor and protect our groundwater and is right for Colorado," said Commissioner Andy Spielman in a statement.
Related Article: What Stands in the Way of Natural Gas Replacing Gasoline in the US?
Colorado ranks among the top 10 states in the nation in terms of oil and natural gas production. The U.S. Energy Department states that parts of the Green River formation, the largest known oil shale deposit in the world with an estimated 1 trillion barrels of oil, are situated within the state. In terms of natural gas, the state ranks fifth in the country in terms of production, meaning it ranks above other shale-rich states like Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Shale oil and natural gas developments are emerging drivers behind a recovering U.S. economy. Amid the boom, however, comes growing concerns about the safety of working in shale plays like Green River. The U.S. government last week extended a comment period until Sept. 30 for a report on hydraulic fracturing operations in Wyoming. That report may be the first to show that the controversial practice may led to the contamination of water supplies. Environmental groups argue that fracking may eventually pollute groundwater with chemicals like benzene and glycols. Encana, an energy company included in the study for Pavillian, Wyo., however, said the government's probe was a waste of time.
Advocates of oil and natural gas operations in the United States contend there are no proven instances where fracking was tied directly to the contamination of drinking water. The Pavillion study, they say, used "faulty data" and included "heavily contested conclusions." Colorado regulators, for their part, said the new state regulations are meant to allay concerns about energy development "in the very rare instances of impact."
Only two states in the nation have groundwater programs in place like Colorado's and the state is the first to require post-drilling water samples. Regulators said the new measure will help state officials determine what factors of oil and gas operations, if any, are affecting groundwater. Despite the controversy over shale development, state leaders have decided it’s time to face the issue directly.
"We have once again set the bar high in our assertive and judicious regulatory approach to oil and gas development," said Spielman.
By. Daniel J. Graeber of Oilprice.com