COGCC To Make Progress On Permit Backlog As Weld County Pushes Back Against State Authority

Hart Van Denburg
A pumpjack borders a neighborhood in southern Weld County.

Colorado’s top oil and gas regulator Jeff Robbins said the state is poised to begin chipping away at the hundreds of backlogged permits in the wake of a massive reform law passed by the state legislature. 

“We’re in a place now where we are looking at oil and gas locations, we’re providing them with the extra scrutiny required by Senate Bill 181, and I’m hopeful that we’ll get to a spot where we can approve permits in a mind that is consistent with what 181 is requiring us to do,” Robbins said. 

He said the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is aiming to approve 20-30 surface application review permits a month in the near future. The COGCC has not met this goal since Senate Bill 181 was passed in the spring. The state currently has 525 location permits awaiting approval. 

As an interim solution, Robbins said that the state has been asking operators “to create a priority list of their top three well locations each month for COGCC” that require attention.

In 2017 and 2018, the COGCC averaged about 40 surface application review permit approvals monthly. But Robbins said the process now takes longer because the agency will use 16 objective criteria to “flag wells that may need additional review to ensure compliance with 181.”

Weld County Commissioners attempted to sidestep the requirement for state permit approval earlier this summer. But state officials and the COGCC reaffirmed the need for companies to attain state permits in order to drill this week.

The county pushed back Monday, saying the state is trying to take away local control of the permitting process.

"Local governments have defined authorities over land use within their jurisdictions – authorities that were further enhanced by SB 19-181. For the COGCC, through the State Attorney’s Office, to now not only attempt to assume local control from local governments but also require a duplicative process for the oil and gas industry is both disappointing and irresponsible," Weld County said in a release.