Fri March 23, 2012

Task Force Scrutinizes Number of Inspectors in Colorado Oil Fields

The chairman of a Governor-appointed task force on oil and gas drilling says the panel is on-track to meet its April 18th deadline, despite concerns raised by some that the work load is too great.

The task force, which met again Thursday, is charged with studying whether local governments should have more authority to regulate oil and gas drilling, and one key issue before it is whether or not the state has an adequate number of field inspectors to ensure that oil and gas wells are functioning properly and pollution is minimal.

Take the current drilling hot spot, Weld County. It has more than 17,000 active wells, and the state employs one field inspector there. Break it down, and that person would have to visit 46 wells a day to see them all in a year. 

Task force and Department of Natural Resources chairman Mike King said this is a concern, but so is the current state budget, and the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is beholden to that.

"As we know in Colorado, we’re really struggling with our revenues and we have doubled the size of the OGCC staff in the last seven years,  we’re getting seven new employees which would include two local liaisons and two more inspectors," King said. "If we need more we’ll go back and ask for more next year."

One of the task force’s most vocal members on this and other issues has been Longmont City Councilman Brian Bagley.  Longmont recently enacted a temporary moratorium on new drilling permits, and Bagley said state regulators have thus far not been paying enough attention to the concerns of people in cities new to drilling.  

"And at least at a local level, what it really comes down to is, is your industry going to impact my life and my property values?" Bagley said.

Thursday was the task force’s third meeting. There are three more scheduled before a report is due to Governor Hickenlooper on April 18th.  That deadline is such so that lawmakers could consider additional legislation this session, if they deem it's warranted. 

Some critics on and off the panel have charged its very mission is to override any efforts by cities and counties to clamp down on drilling; a charge the Governor’s office has repeatedly denied.