COGCC Adopts Nation’s Weakest Water Testing Program

Huge Exemption for Front Range heightens community concern

January 7, 2013
Contact: 
Expert: Dan Grossman, (303) 887-8206, dgrossman@edf.org
Media: Lauren Whittenberg, 512-691-3437, lwhittenberg@edf.org

(DENVER – Jan. 7, 2013) Environmental Defense Fund today criticized the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) for ignoring accepted scientific practice and adopting the weakest rule in the nation for testing groundwater around oil and gas operations.

“At a time when Colorado desperately needs a signal that state officials are listening to the concerns of citizens and communities, it is unfortunate that the Administration failed to adopt a rigorous, science-based program to adequately assess whether our groundwater is being protected,” said Dan Grossman, EDF Rocky Mountain Regional Director.

“Of the five states that have proposed or adopted groundwater testing programs, Colorado would be the first to place an arbitrary cap on which water wells get tested and allow companies to cherry-pick the ones they want to test, and it would be the only state to create a massive carve-out for the area with the most intensive drilling activity – precisely the area that demands the greatest scrutiny, not the least,” Grossman said.

The program adopted by the COGCC falls short in three key respects.

First, the rule exempts for the entire Greater Wattenberg Area (encompassing parts of Weld, Adams, Boulder, and Larimer counties)—from the statewide program. The Greater Wattenberg Area holds more than a quarter of Colorado’s oil and gas wells and is home to some of the state’s most intensive drilling activity. It also encroaches on Front Range communities that have heightened concern about impacts from development. And yet, the rule provides a major carve-out by requiring only cursory groundwater testing in the area. Under the carve-out, the odds of detecting contamination are significantly diminished, and the odds of tracking contamination back to a particular oil and gas well would be almost impossible.

Second, where the rule applies statewide, it arbitrarily caps the number of water sources operators are required to sample within a well radius, allowing companies to “cherry pick” what gets tested. Groundwater experts agree that, in order to have a robust program, all water sources near a production well should be sampled in order to account for localized variation in hydrogeology – as is required in the five states that have proposed or adopted baseline testing policies (Alaska, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia).

Finally, the COGCC program fails to set rules for how groundwater samples are collected and tested. Having a robust sampling and analysis plan that everyone follows is critical to ensuring the quality and consistency of data generated under the program. Relying on undefined “accepted industry practices” is a meaningless standard that will only undermine the data quality, making agency investigations more costly and time consuming and inviting more litigation.

“This isn’t leadership,” Grossman said. “It’s especially embarrassing, given that many of the companies in Colorado are already following stronger policies in other states. If they can do it in West Virginia, certainly they can do it here too.”

###

Environmental Defense Fund (edf.org), a leading national nonprofit organization, creates transformational solutions to the most serious environmental problems. EDF links science, economics, law and innovative private-sector partnerships. See twitter.com/EDFEnergyEX; facebook.com/EnvDefenseFund; and http://blogs.edf.org/energyexchange/.