Around 150 comment on Wyoming oil-gas well setback increase; half in favor, half against

Energy Associated Press

About 150 people, businesses and organizations filed written comments on a proposal to increase minimum allowable distance between oil and gas wells and homes in Wyoming from 350 to 500 feet, state Oil and Gas Supervisor Mark Watson said Monday.

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Monday evening was the deadline for written comments on the regulatory change. Most comments had come from Laramie County and roughly half of all comments supported the change while half were opposed, Watson said Monday afternoon.

"I've got them spread all over my desk, kind of categorizing them for or against and the reasons why," Watson said.

Significant new oil drilling has occurred in eastern Converse and southern Campbell counties over the past couple years. Laramie County saw a surge in oil drilling permitting last year, although a recent global plunge in oil prices could impede many of those wells for some time yet.

Wyoming isn't the only state weighing how to protect the public while techniques such as horizontal drilling improve the feasibility of oil development, often near developed areas. In Colorado, a task force appointed by Gov. John Hickenlooper is studying possible new rules for oil and gas drilling such as increasing that state's 500-foot setback distance to 1,500 feet or more.

Wyoming's proposed changes would expand the permissible distance not only between wells and homes, but between any drilling or production equipment and any occupied structure.

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The 60-day public comment period wasn't the last chance to weigh in on the changes. People will get another opportunity at a public hearing March 9 in Casper.

The Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, the primary state agency for regulating oil and gas development in the state, posted many of the comments submitted on its website.

Several comments said 1,320 feet, or a quarter-mile, would be a better minimum to protect the health of people near oil and gas development.

"The drilling companies do not have to be right on top of the deposit in order to hit it," wrote Mark and DeAnn Eisenhart, who live in a semi-rural area a couple miles north of Cheyenne.

One woman who lives a few miles east of Cheyenne wrote that plans to drill for oil a quarter-mile from her horse property will result in too much noise, odor and traffic.

"I can assure it will be too darned close for me to enjoy the peace and quiet of the farm on which I have lived for more than 30 years," Virginia Wakefield said.

Supporters of increasing the distance as proposed included Carrie Zhang, chief accountant for InterTech Environmental & Engineering LLC, a regulatory consulting firm in Laramie.

"The development of our oil and gas resources helps support our economy and jobs and is a benefit to everyone in the state. The current proposal would continue those benefits while also accommodating neighboring landowners and residents," Zhang wrote.

The proposal as written would give regulators flexibility to increase or decrease the minimum setback distance in special circumstances, said Joshua Rambo, a landman for Phillips Energy Partners, LLC, a mineral rights acquisition company based in Shreveport, Louisiana.

"Please don't let regulatory controls increase to a level that discourages development and strangles new growth," Rambo wrote.

The five-member commission that oversees the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission could adopt the changes at its regular meeting March 10 or might decide to hold off until later so it can study the issue further, Watson said.

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