By Denver Business Journal

Colorado got generally high marks in an outside review of its rules governing oil and gas operations and hydraulic fracturing, but the review said the state could go farther to protect groundwater supplies.

The review was by STRONGER (short for ⿿State Review of Oil & Natural Gas Environmental Regulations⿝). The nonprofit organization, based in Oklahoma City, was formed in 1999 and has received funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Energy and the American Petroleum Institute, an industry trade group.

In this state, oil and gas operations are overseen by the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission, a division of the Department of Natural Resources.

⿿Overall we⿿re pleased with the recommendations; it was a positive review,⿝ said David Neslin, COGCC⿿s director, in an interview.

COGCC has already met with state public health and water resources officials to work on recommendations made in the report. The agency also will hold a stakeholder meeting to review the report, Neslin said.

The review panel met in Denver on June 23.

The STRONGER report ( download here) found several strengths in Coloradoâ¿¿s existing rules:

⿢ The state⿿s rules were updated recently, in 2008, and include language governing hydraulic fracturing, also called ⿿fracking,⿝ operations.

Fracking cracks underground rock formations with water, sand and chemicals to release oil and natural gas. The industry says the practice is safe if done correctly, but concerns have been raised about potential environmental harm.

â¿¢ Coloradoâ¿¿s rules require that oil and gas companies disclose the contents of frack fluid to agency officials and health care professionals who sign a confidentiality agreement when an incident has occurred.

The report said the rules allow the agency and health care officials to address possible chemical contamination while protecting proprietary information.

â¿¢ The rules also require energy companies to monitor and record pressure changes in the wellbore during fracking operations and report incidents of high pressure to the state.

⿿These requirements help to ensure that groundwater is protected and that prompt action is taken if conditions arise that could lead to the subsurface release of hydraulic fracturing fluids,⿝ the report said.

But STRONGER also suggested the state look at its methods for determining the minimum depth that cement should be poured down a well to protect groundwater supplies from potential contamination, as well as maximum depths.

The state also should ask companies for more specific information on the materials used and the pressures reached in fracking operations, the review determined.

The report also suggested the state test for naturally occurring radioactive materials in wastewater from fracking operations, and that it review how much water Colorado has available for fracking operations and whether more should be done to recycle that water.

Western Resource Advocates, a Boulder-based environmental advocacy group, criticized the report for not addressing how far oil and gas operations should be from homes and buildings. The minimum setback is 150 feet in rural areas and 350 feet in urban settings.

⿿There is an urgent need to increase Colorado⿿s residential setbacks,⿝ said Mike Chiropolos, the lands program director at Western Resource Advocates, in a statement. ⿿The single most important thing that Colorado can do to protect homeowners in the gas patch is to increase the distance between drilling rigs and our homes.⿝

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