Gas regulators take new tack on drilling setbacks

Development near homes at issue

State oil and gas regulators on Thursday rescinded a decision to let local governments determine whether companies wanting to drill within 500 feet of a building would need to seek a waiver from the building owner.

The action came as the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission also put off further deliberations on sweeping new drilling setback rules until Feb. 11.

The commission had hoped to possibly finalize the controversial new rules Thursday. However, it delayed a decision to allow formally designated parties to the rulemaking a chance to respond to comments received by the commission after Jan. 9.

The commission hopes to craft setback rules to address increasing concerns among many residents about drilling near homes, schools and other occupied structures. Its efforts come as some lawmakers are considering pursuing legislative approaches to respond to those concerns, and some communities are taking matters into their own hands, as with Longmont residents’ recent vote to ban hydraulic fracturing. That vote is being challenged in court by the industry.

Companies currently must drill no closer than 150 feet from homes in rural areas, and 350 feet from homes in urban areas. Under rules the commission tentatively approved Jan. 9, companies wanting to drill closer than 1,000 feet from homes and other buildings would have to notify affected building and land owners and mitigate impacts, and a commission hearing would be required to drill within 1,000 feet of schools, hospitals and other high-occupancy buildings.

As tentatively approved in January, the rules also left it up to local government designees to determine at the local level whether a waiver also must be sought from all building owners within 500 feet of a proposed well before proceeding with drilling.

However, the commission on Thursday revoked that measure after receiving legal advice that it could be construed as delegating to local governments authority that the state Supreme Court has specifically found belongs to the commission.

With the commission’s action Thursday, the rules as proposed revert to previous wording under which the 500-foot waiver requirement would apply to urban areas but not rural ones. Some critics of that differentiation have questioned why rural residents should have lesser rights than urban ones when it comes to proposed drilling near their homes.

Companies can seek variances from the waiver requirement from the commission director and the commission. Commission director Matt Lepore said that answers concerns about property owners potentially having veto authority over drilling.


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