COGCC finalizes new drilling rules
The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission gave final approval Monday to a set of rules aimed at limiting drilling impacts near homes and buildings.

The Commission voted 8 to 1 to approve the rules, which were the result of a yearlong process which culminated in public hearings in Denver from Jan. 10-13. The new rules take effect Aug. 1.

“We’ve tried to reach a balance that fairly considers and applies all the concerns expressed,” COGCC Director Matt Lepore said. “We believe it best addresses this tough public policy challenge by protecting the public welfare, respecting property rights and economic issues, and allowing necessary development of energy.”

The COGCC said the rules are the strongest in the country for limiting impacts of drilling. Under the new rules:

- Wells 1,000 feet from occupied structures must take steps to protect against spills and limit emissions, noise, dust and light.

-Wells must be placed at least 500 feet from houses and or occupied buildings and 1,000 feet from buildings housing large numbers of people, such as schools, nursing homes and hospitals

-Operators must give expanded notice to nearby residents and local governments on proposed operations. They also must agree to meet with anyone living within 1,000 feet of a proposed drilling site.

Earlier this year, the Commission also approved rules for groundwater monitoring. Operators must now perform baseline testing at up to four locations within a half mile of new wells prior to drilling. Two follow-up tests must be done at each location, one at six - 12 months, and again at five to six years after drilling is complete.

“I am proud of this Commission for acting in a responsible fashion,” Department of Natural Resources Executive Director Mike King said. “This Commission has shepherded through a rule that once again makes Colorado an example for other states to follow.”

However, conservation groups criticized the new rules as weak, saying there are a number of industry loopholes.

“For months Coloradans have testified that they want significant protections to reduce the impacts of drilling and fracking,” Conservation Colorado Executive Director Pete Maysmith said. “Instead, we are left with rules that don’t solve the problem, leaving our homes, businesses and communities exposed to the coming onslaught from heavy industrial drilling and fracking.”

The most egregious example is the exemption for rural areas, where drilling can come as close as 200 feet to a home, said Maysmith. Another loophole allows little or no recourse for adjacent landowners. “All Coloradans should be afforded the same protections whether they live in urban or rural parts of our state,” he said.

He also said the new rules do little to mitigate health impacts from fracking and drilling. A number of residents testified about health problems blamed on gas development.

Some state lawmakers also expressed disappointment with the new rules. “It is no secret that Coloradans are greatly concerned about the impacts of fracking and drilling ... someone needs to stand up for Colorado residents,” House Majority Leader Dickey Lee Hullinghorst (D-Boulder) said. “Unfortunately, the rules passed by the COGCC fall far short of protecting Coloradans.”

For his part, Gov. John Hickenlooper, who appointed the COGCC, said the new rules are not the end of the discussion. This summer, the state will embark on a two-part study of oil and gas emissions and potential health effects along the Front Range.

4CORE, BP explore natural gas fleets
Natural gas could soon be used to do more than heat your home. The Four Corners Office for Resource Efficiency (4CORE) announced this week it will be partering with BP America to explore the viability of compressed natural gas, or CNG, in fleet vehicles, such as buses and maintenance trucks. The fuel is currently less expensive and burns cleaner than gasoline or diesel, making it a more affordable and environmentally friendly option.

The study will be done in conjunction with the La Plata Energy Council, La Plata County, City of Durango, Colorado Energy Office, Empire Electric Association, Town of Ignacio, La Plata Electric Association, City of Cortez and Town of Silverton.

A series of regional meetings will be held to gauge interest, feasibility, benefits and logistics of converting vehicles to run on CNG. Other considerations include fueling, range, power, maintenance, return on investment, regulations, synchronization between fueling stations, and conversion vs. buying new vehicles. 4CORE has also sent out a survey to area fleet managers to further the discussion, address issues and collaborate.

“We look forward to facilitating the exchange of information and exploring the many moving parts of CNG viability,” 4CORE Executive Director Gregg Dubit said.

Businessman to run for City Council
The former financial controller for La Plata Electric Association has announced his City Council candidacy, running on a platform of fiscal and environmental responsibility. Keith Brant, 43, owner of Durango Premier Vacation Rentals LLC, filed his petition to run Wed., Feb. 13. “I have a passion for this community and have developed clear guiding principles that will direct my decisions,” said Brant. “There are essential components to sustaining a vibrant community as well as a healthy environment.”

Brant’s three “guiding principles” include:

- Economic viability – fostering a business-friendly community and supporting local businesses;

- Environmental stewardship – taking responsibility and supporting reasonable environmental policies;

- Fiscal responsibility – serving as a guardian of public resources, focusing on true priorities, essential services and realistic programs.

Brant served as controller for LPEA from 2008-12. He stepped down last September to devote his energy to his vacation rentals business, which he launched in October 2011.

Brant is on the board for the Durango Area Tourism Office (DATO) and served on the Durango Chamber of Commerce board from 2009–12. He also was a member of the City’s Plastic Bag Taskforce.

Prior to joining LPEA, Brant worked overseas as a finance manager in the oil service industry for Tidewater, the world’s largest offshore marine transport company.

“My diverse business background has provided me with a broad-based knowledge of business, economic development and community-specific concerns,” said Brant. “Traveling the world and living overseas also gave me true appreciation for Durango.”

Originally from Arizona, Brant earned his accounting degree from Arizona State University. He is an avid cyclist and bike commuter. He enjoys snowboarding, hiking and camping. He has a wife, Sabrina, and two daughters, ages 5 and 7.

Three City Council seats are up for grabs this spring: those of Mayor Doug Lyon, Christina Rinderle and Paul Broderick. Of those, only Rinderle will be running for re-election. Lyon is term limited and Broderick is steeping down after this, his first term.
Ballots will be mailed March 16; the election takes place April 2.

– Missy Votel