When the state Legislature ratified new rules governing how gas and oil production can be conducted in Colorado, the
industry hardly was gushing with praise.
Instead, industry representatives wrung their collective hands, claiming that the
requirements were unduly onerous and would, effectively, put them out of business.
Nevermind that the rules were a modest - if important - attempt at protecting public health and safety, as well as
important wildlife and its habitat, from the ill effects of gas and oil production. The stink raised by the industry
would have the inattentive believing that the doors on gas and oil production had slammed shut when the Colorado
Legislature approved the rules in the 2009 session. Not true; and the rules that were designed to protect groundwater
require disclosure of chemicals used in production. The rules, which generally foster a culture of greater openness and
cooperation from the gas and oil industry, were a welcome change - even if they could have gone further.
Not surprisingly, the industry has not taken its medicine and moved ahead. Though it abandoned any outright attempts at
legislatively undermining the rules in the 2010 session, there are a number of efforts under way through other
channels. These include a court case, filed by the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, questioning whether the state
accurately forecast what the rules would cost industry to comply with and what they would cost the Colorado Oil and Gas
Conservation Commission to enforce. That suit is winding its way through the courts.
Most recently, industry has launched a direct attack against the rules' provisions requiring proper disposal of pit
requesting an amendment that would strip the requirement of its teeth. The Colorado Petroleum Association is requesting
that the COGCC modify the rule requiring operators to remove pit liners and dispose of them at a proper sanitation
facility, and instead allow the material to be buried on site. These large sheets of synthetic material are used to
line drilling site-adjacent ponds that hold a mixture of chemicals and water used in the drilling process.
Until the new rules were in place, disposing of these liners in a landfill was optional and an option not often
exercised. Gas operators, with landowners' permission, would often bury the liners on private property, and industry is
now seeking a return to those good old days. While disposing of the material dredged from these pits certainly poses a
legitimate challenge for landfill operators and the gas and oil industry alike, the solution is not to simply bury the
problem on private land, with no obligation to record this disposal. Subsequent owners would not even know if or where
With many questions still looming about the toxicity of materials used in gas production, moving backward from the
rules makes little sense. It is not surprising that the industry would attempt a return to the more accommodating
climate it enjoyed before last year's rule went into effect. But it is not appropriate, either. The pit-liner rules -
and all others - enacted by the Colorado Legislature should be strengthened, not steamrolled.
Megan Graham is director of the San Juan Citizens Alliance.