State panel hears drilling setback debate

Facing warnings of consequences whichever way it acts, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission on Tuesday took a full day of testimony on a proposal to adopt more stringent requirements on setbacks between wells and occupied structures.

The commission in January will further consider proposed changes to rules that now allow drilling as close as 150 feet from homes in rural areas, and 350 feet from urban residences. So far, it’s hearing both that the changes would go too far, and not far enough.

Under the proposal by commission staff, the new minimum setback would be 200 feet for all homes. Whenever it’s proposed within 350 feet, the consent of all those owning buildings that are closer would be needed.

Consultation with all building owners within 1,000 feet of a proposed well also would be required, and within that distance energy companies would have to implement measures to mitigate noise, light, air quality and other concerns.

Commission director Matt Lepore said this week the setbacks issue is being watched closely by lawmakers. They may take up the matter legislatively if they’re not satisfied with whatever new rules the commission adopts.

State Rep. Matt Jones, D-Louisville, who was just elected to the state Senate, told the commission robust new rules are needed and reminded it of Longmont voters’ recent decision to ban hydraulic fracturing.

“That (kind of action) has momentum and if these rules come out as proposed I think it will give it even further momentum,” he said.

At the same time, the industry takes issue with the idea of giving adjacent landowners veto power over a proposed well site. And agricultural, homebuilding and mineral rights interests say reducing flexibility on where well pads can be located could infringe on their property rights.

Debra Anderson, who owns mineral rights in western Colorado, said mineral rights are important to people, and if taken from them must be paid for.

“Many of these mineral owners are not rich people. They’re just average, ordinary people who sweat and toil on the land,” she said.

Jim Ramey, director of Citizens for a Healthy Community, a Delta County group, told the commission he supports a minimum 2,000-foot setback requirement to better protect people’s health. However, he also praised the idea of eliminating dual rules for rural and urban homeowners.

“Protecting people who live in rural areas of Colorado is just as important as protecting the people who live in the suburbs of Denver,” he said.

Mesa County Commissioner Craig Meis said he’s concerned about the prospect of adopting rules that are “prescriptive in nature,” and representatives from Weld and Garfield counties, which see the bulk of Colorado drilling, both spoke in favor of existing setback distance requirements.


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