GarCo commissioner tentatively backs greater rig setbacks

A Garfield County commissioner Monday voiced tentative support for the idea of toughening state rules regarding oil and gas drilling near homes and other occupied structures.

Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said he’s “kind of in agreement” with a draft proposal by Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission staff for new setback rules, but would like to hear more on the pluses and minuses of proposed changes.

Garfield commissioners are looking to weigh in as the state commission conducts rulemaking hearings on setbacks and on a proposal to require companies to do baseline testing of nearby groundwater before drilling.

The state commission last week voted 6–1 in favor of proceeding with both rulemakings.

A broad-based stakeholder group has met numerous times this year to explore possible changes to the setback rules. Companies currently can drill as close as 150 feet from homes in rural areas, and 350 feet in urban areas.

Some conservation and citizen groups have requested minimum setbacks of 2,000 feet, while some industry, homebuilding and agricultural entities fear repercussions of changes to the current rules.

In an interview Friday, state Department of Natural Resources Executive Director Mike King said that while the stakeholder group didn’t reach an agreement on a recommendation of its own, its discussions formed the foundation for the conceptual document put forth by commission staff. That document is merely ” a starting point for discussion” by the commission, he said.

The proposal would allow drilling and production facilities less than 350 feet from occupied buildings only with the consent of all owners of surface property and occupied buildings within that distance. For operations within 350 to 700 feet of occupied buildings, a good-faith consultation and a 40-day comment period would be required, and those within 1,200 feet would require consultation and a 20-day comment period.

In all cases, the operations would have to abide by mitigation measures such as restrictions on operating hours, use of emissions control devices, noise limits and restrictions on, or prohibition of, open pits.

Less than 10 percent of drilling in Colorado in recent years has occurred within 500 feet of buildings. But Kirby Winn, Garfield’s oil and gas liaison, said he’s seen such a case recently, and while the impacts to the residents may be temporary, “it’s a real inconvenience in a lot of ways.”

Jankovsky said seeing a rig close to a home causes him to “wonder why it can’t be moved back to 500 feet.”

Under the conceptual proposal, operations less than 750 feet from schools, hospitals, nursing homes and other high-occupancy buildings could occur only with commission approval following a public hearing.


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If there were more reasonable setbacks, there would be much less opposition, fewer conflicts and more certainty for industry.

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