With New Rules, Calls For Drilling Holds And A Permit Backlog, Colorado Oil Regulators Have ‘A Lot On Our Plates’

<p>Grace Hood/CPR News</p>
<p>Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission director Jeff Robbins meets with newly appointed commissioner Mark Hopkins, May 21, 2019.</p>
Photo: May 21 COGCC Meeting | Jeff Robbins - GHood
Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission director Jeff Robbins meets with newly appointed commissioner Mark Hopkins, May 21, 2019.

Colorado’s oil and gas commissioners held their first regular meeting Tuesday since the state legislature passed a massive oil and gas overhaul bill. That bill, which Gov. Jared Polis signed into law in April, makes health and safety a higher priority.

Just two Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission commissioners had served on the board before. Five commissioners are new.

“Local governments really know [their] people and [their] neighborhoods,” said Mark Hopkins, a Broomfield resident and new COGCC member. “I hope to bring a lot of those lessons learned here.”

Packed house at COGCC #oilandgas 1st meeting of commissioners after passage of SB 181, a large industry overhaul effort by state officials. Lots of new faces on commission. pic.twitter.com/UqXCwBXJJG

The meeting drew intense public interest as activists and industry groups filled the room.

Environmental groups called for an immediate stop to permitting until all rules related to Senate Bill 181 could be written.

“An immediate pause on permitting while more protective rules and regulations are developed is the only just and reasonable course of action. Therefore we call for an immediate halt to all permitting,” said Micah Parkin, the executive director of the environmental group 350 Colorado.

But industry groups asked commissioners to immediately address the backlog of more than 6,000 drilling permits.

“We recognize the importance of having a robust set of rules and regulations to ensure the state’s environment remains protected, but it’s also important to make Colorado a state where oil and gas companies want to do business,” said Dan Haley, the executive director of the trade group Colorado Oil and Gas Association.

COGCC Director Jeff Robbins said he will not pause permitting, but rather rely on a set of criteria for deciding which permits deserve a greater level of scrutiny. In general, those permits are close to homes, cities and sensitive environmental areas.

“That’s what the administration has suggested we do. That’s what we will continue to do,” said Robbins.

Overall, the COGCC faces 12 rulemakings related to Senate Bill 181, four of which will begin this year.

“There’s a lot on our plates,” said Robbins.