October 30, 2015
ACCDAN's Prehearing Statement
Dear Director Lepore,
On behalf of Adams County Communities for Drilling Accountability NOW (ACCDAN), I want to thank you and your staff for accommodating the many residents of Adams County that participated in the October stakeholder meetings. You allowed us to voice our numerous concerns and ask a multitude of questions; we were certainly grateful for the opportunity to engage the COGCC in dialogue.
We had hoped to have a meaningful impact on the rulemaking process when we attended the 3 days of stakeholder meetings given that we are exactly the type of community the rules are being rewritten to protect. Unfortunately the current draft of the regulations offers us no protection at all. Whether the Commissioners enact these regulations, or do not enact them will not substantially or even noticeably alter the outcome of the proposal to put a 20 well facility directly in the middle of a 120 home community. We put a tremendous amount of research, energy and time into participating in these stakeholder meetings, unfortunately when the second draft was released it was more devastating than the first one.
For the purposes of the prehearing statement, we will focus our comments on Task Force Recommendation #17 and the proposed rules that followed from Recommendation #17.
Define what constitutes “Large Scale Oil and Gas Facilities”
A large scale oil and gas facility is being defined as existing only in the context of an Urban Mitigation Area. The resulting definition is so narrow that all but about 5 facilities a year (per COGCC estimates) will fall outside the realm of these regulations. Given the large outcry in the state of Colorado over the past 5 years regarding large scale facilities in urban areas, a rewrite of the regulations that impacts so few facilities will clearly not address the public concerns that led to the Governor’s Task Force.
The draft rules propose the use of Best Management Practices (BMPs) once a facility exceeds 90,000 feet of combined borehole length. Given that these facilities, by COGCC’s own definition, exist only in urbanized areas, there should be no minimum number of feet or wells required to engage BMPs. A combined borehole length of 14,000 feet can be large in the context of a densely populated UMA. While there should be no minimum borehole length, there must be a maximum limit to the number of wells or the total borehole length. Many reasons can be given for why the COGCC should regulate the size of facilities in urban areas, but none are as compelling - and obligatory – as the protection of human health and safety.
Empirical evidence of the health impacts on residents living near oil and gas facilities is being reviewed and published with greater frequency than in the past due to the number of people currently living in close proximity to oil and gas wells. While only a few studies have made it through the rigorous journal review process, “The first few studies have all shown health impacts,” reports Brian S Schwartz MD and professor in the at John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, including most recently, increased risks of adverse pregnancy outcomes.
All too real evidence exists of the safety failures that are unavoidable in oil and gas facilities. Lightning strikes, equipment failures and human error have all led to horrific accidents in the highly explosive arena of oil and gas production (see News Reports of Exploding Tanks attached in electronic copy only). Over the course of human history, we have not eradicated these types of problems, and are unlikely to do so in the near future regardless of the technological advances being made in the industry. The larger the facility, the greater the probability of an adverse event occurring; the closer to a neighborhood the more likely it becomes catastrophic.
Siting Tools to locate facilities away from residential areas when feasible
Recommendation #17 tasked the COGCC with 3 important and difficult challenges. The third of these, as stated on page 5 of the Task Force Recommendations, is to
...address the authority of, and procedures to be used by the Director of the COGCC to regulate the location when permitting Large Scale Oil and Gas Facilities for the purpose of reducing the impacts to and conflicts with communities. This shall include siting tools to locate facilities away from residential areas when feasible. Where siting solutions are not possible, the Director would require mitigations...
This particular challenge to develop tools for siting facilities away from homes has not yet been addressed. We believe it must be addressed to meet the intent of Recommendation #17. We assume the fact that siting tools were not included in the COGCC draft regulations was not inadvertent. We are mindful - and appreciative - of the unique knowledge, talent and professional effort that the COGCC staff embodies. Your leadership on this issue is necessary if the goal is to keep all stakeholders engaged in the process of rulemaking for the benefit of the State of Colorado.
Stakeholders have provided specific recommendations and rationale for increased setbacks, and have suggested requiring state or local governments to complete an alternative site analysis for every proposed large UMA facility. We believe setbacks of 1500 feet and independently conducted alternative site analyses are good starting points for discussing the intricate topic of siting tools. Yet these approaches have largely been taken off the table by the COGCC. It is now incumbent upon the COGCC to put something on the table that can be used to locate facilities away from residential areas.
Mitigation measures to limit intensity and scale
The impacts of large facilities in urban areas will impact special needs populations. While the number of impacted special needs children and adults are not always readily apparent at any given site, the disruptions caused by 24/7 drilling activities can be life altering. These are not necessarily people that can be safely moved to a temporary location such as a hotel during drilling, and they may not be able to cope with unending noise and months of disrupted routines if they remain at home. The COGCC should be able to provide for larger setbacks in order to accommodate the very real and specific needs of our most vulnerable populations.
The proposal put forth in the draft regulations to mitigate noise by pacing the 24/7 drilling activities over some indeterminate amount of time is as unsettling as the alternative which is to drill 24/7 straight through until completed. We respectfully submit that this is a perfect example of the fact that there is no right way to do the wrong thing. If the pacing of drilling activities is the best way to mitigate the noise, then the facility should not be in the neighborhood to begin with.
Submitted on behalf of Adams County Communities for Drilling Accountability NOW