BLM Colorado

The Bureau of Land Management leases out about 3.8 million acres for oil and natural gas exploration in Colorado, but it's the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission that issues permits and provides inspections under a 2009 agreement that has expired at the end of 2019.

Technically, state regulators have no more say so over wells drilled on nearly 43% of Colorado that is occupied by federal land. "In spirit," however, the state and federal regulators march on.

A memorandum of understanding written in 2009 gave the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission oversight of permitting and regulating wells on federal land.

About 3.8 million acres are leased out by the BLM for oil and natural gas.

The state approved 256 permits for a location or site on federal lands and 566 in 2018. There are currently 527 in process, according to the COGCC.

"The COGCC is the process of signing an extension of the MOU with our partners," Megan Castle, spokeswoman for the state regulatory agency said Friday.

The agreement expired this summer and was extended until the end of  2019. Now the state, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service are working off "the spirit of the MOU's intent in ensuring an effective and collaborative relationship between the agencies for procedures and processes being used for oil and gas development and production will remain intact," according to a joint statement in response to Colorado Politics' question.

The statement was attributed to COGCC director Jeff Robbins; BLM's Steven Hall, the acting deputy state director for energy, lands and minerals in Colorado; and Thomas L. Williams, the forest service's regional manager for the minerals and geology program in the Rocky Mountain headquarters.

State Sen. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction, noticed the expiration dates this summer and began raising questions. About 76% of Mesa County is federal lands, and Scott has been alarmed about nearly 1,000 oil and gas jobs that have left the county the past few years.

"This would have a major impact on Mesa County," said Scott, the state Senate minority whip who serves on the upper chamber's energy committee. 

Scott has advocated for the stalled Jordan Cove pipeline project to benefit Western Slope natural gas production and he's been a vocal critic of Gov. Jared Polis' efforts to regulate oil and gas.

He doesn't see a long life for the agreement, at least not with the Trump administration, when Colorado's rules are in flux after Senate Bill 181 last year gave local governments more authority on where wells locate, and the COGCC is deep in what appears to be a long, slow process to rewrite the regulations.

"How is BLM going to have any idea what they're agreeing to until they see it?" Scott said.

The West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association is trying to stay optimistic about the best possible outcome, executive director Chelsie Miera said Friday afternoon.

"If it allows our members to operate in a way that offers some consistency and clarity, by all means, we hope they work together," she said. "However, it's rare you say you hope the federal government takes primacy over something in this state, while the COGCC is figuring out rules and not issuing permits, we hope they both -- whether it's individually or together -- look hard at what they're trying to accomplish.

"... Our members will always want to make sure they're completing their operations and moving forward in a responsible manner and we believe they do so. We do it better here on the West Slope than even on the Front Range, and definitely better in the state Colorado than anywhere else in the country."

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