A desire to protect the area’s water supply while allowing oil and gas drilling led El Paso County commissioners to approve an agreement Tuesday with the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.
Commissioners clashed with the commission over the past year and in January adopted strict regulations for water testing before and after drilling. Threatened with a lawsuit by the state attorney general, commissioners amended and softened county regulations —they still required groundwater testing — but insisted the state was not strict enough.
They met in the middle with a memorandum of understanding, which the state commission is expected to approve Nov. 15.
“The regulations are going to be stricter than any others in the state of Colorado,” said senior assistant county attorney Diana May.
She said Ultra Resources and Hilcorp “are 100 percent behind these requirements.”
Ultra is drilling three wells — Brutus, Olive Oyl and Spinach — east of Colorado Springs in unincorporated parts of the county. Hilcorp has completed seismic testing on two sites — Myers and State — and expects to start drilling before the year’s end.
The memorandum of understanding is a likely prelude to stricter state regulations, which could be in place by 2013, May said.
“When Matt Lepore spoke to commissioners two weeks ago, he said the MOU could become a moot point but commissioners said clearly to him that they think regulations are important and they wanted assurances if nothing is passed by the state,” May said.
Lepore, director of the conservation commission, said his board will approve the agreement unless new regulations for statewide groundwater monitoring are passed at a hearing Nov. 14.
The commission doesn’t require groundwater testing. The Colorado Oil and Gas Association, a trade association, suggests voluntary testing. The agreement approved by El Paso County requires baseline testing of two wells within a half-mile before drilling begins, and again a year later.
The commission’s new proposal will mirror the agreement with two additions: to test water again five years later, and to expand the radius to a mile if necessary to find a second test well.
“We want some assurance that drilling didn’t cause a problem,” Lepore said. “We don’t know how long it might take for impacts to show up. But we don’t want to make the oil companies monitor groundwater in perpetuity. There are other factors that could affect the water quality.”