Board delays decision on drilling rig buffer zones

State regulators Tuesday rejected a proposal to increase the minimum buffer between oil and gas drilling rigs and homes.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission instead decided to put off a decision on drilling setbacks until after a committee can study the issue early next year.

The commission also decided to delay a decision on the controversial idea of requiring seasonal drilling limits to protect wildlife habitat. In addition, it tentatively agreed to require providing the opportunity for surface-owner and local-government involvement in oil and gas companies’ creation of comprehensive development plans for drilling.

The commission’s actions came as it continued to work on a legislation-mandated rewrite of its rules in order to balance oil and gas development against protection of public health, the environment and wildlife. That work is scheduled to continue today and Thursday.

The COGCC agreed to put off the wildlife deliberations until its regular monthly meeting on Sept. 22-23. Commissioners decided they needed more time to review new information that includes a commission staff reversal of its support for seasonal-drilling limitations of as much as 90 days in sensitive wildlife habitat, with certain

Voting 4-3 with two abstentions, the commission rebuffed a proposal by commission member Tresi Houpt to require a minimum setback of 400 feet between wellheads and homes. The current minimum required setback is 150 feet in rural areas.

Houpt is also a commissioner for Garfield County, where homeowners have complained about noise, traffic and other impacts of nearby rigs. But Houpt said there are also public safety considerations, such as the possibility of rig fires. Such a fire struck a well near Rulison in Garfield County in August.

“I don’t think we should wait until somebody is actually injured” to increase the setback, Houpt said.

Commission member Tom Compton was among those who opposed changing the setbacks for now. He said doing so might amount to prejudging the work of the stakeholder group.

Houpt had more luck getting fellow commission members to revise proposed comprehensive-drilling-plan rules so surface owners and local governments must be invited to participate. She said such plans would have value only if all appropriate parties are brought to the table. The proposed voluntary plans are intended to identify, discuss and mitigate impacts of plans to develop multiple oil and gas locations in an area.

Among other actions Tuesday, the commission tentatively agreed to increase well bonding requirements.

The commission plans to cast a final vote later on all of its proposed rules.


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