Commission allows more flaring from Cheyenne-area oil wells; update, public outreach required

IndustriesAssociated Press

Samson Energy can continue burning off byproduct natural gas from eight oil wells northeast of Cheyenne for two more months following a Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission vote Tuesday.

The extension allows Samson to keep flaring until the next commission meeting in May. In the meantime, Golden, Colorado-based Samson will need to file a report ahead of the April commission meeting on its prospects for ending the flaring, such as by building a gathering system to move the gas to a pipeline roughly 15 miles away.

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The company also must reach out to nearby homeowners about its oil development activity in the sparsely populated area about 10 miles from Cheyenne.

"We didn't want to rush into anything without first understanding their needs and concerns. But we do plan to reach out to those people," Samson landman Will Blankenship told the commissioners.

The five-member Oil and Gas Conservation Commission oversees an agency of the same name that regulates oil and gas development in the state. Gov. Matt Mead is commission chairman, and other top state officials including the state lands director and state geologist serve as commissioners.

Flaring is controversial because it causes air and light pollution and wastes a potentially valuable resource. Companies flare gas from new oil wells while waiting to see how much oil the wells produce, sometimes to the extent that a new oilfield at night can resemble a big birthday cake.

If production figures suggest flared oil wells will remain viable, companies will install pipelines allowing the gas to be moved elsewhere and sold rather than burned on site.

Commission rules allow unlimited flaring for 15 days after an oil well is completed and 250,000 cubic feet of gas per well, per day, for the first six months. After that, the well owner may flare no more than 60,000 cubic feet per day.

In November, the commission reluctantly granted a four-month flaring extension for the Cheyenne-area wells, which at the time belonged to Cirque Energy. Samson Energy took over the wells following a buyout Feb. 26.

Samson sought a four-month extension that would allow flaring of up to 3.2 million cubic feet of gas from the eight wells per day. The two-month extension granted at the commission's March meeting allows flaring of 3 million cubic feet per day.

Unlike other wells recently drilled within sight of homes, the Samson wells have been a bit too remote to stir up much controversy in the Cheyenne area. However, the meeting occurred just a day after a public hearing where commissioners heard from several homeowners concerned by recent drilling in Laramie County.

The public hearing involved a proposal to widen the minimum distance oil and gas drilling must occur away from homes and other occupied structures in the state. Glare, noise and pollution from flaring are among the top concerns of homeowners when oil development occurs nearby.

"From the public's point of view, it doesn't matter if it's Cirque or Samson when they see equipment out there and flaring," Mead said.

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Follow Mead Gruver at https://twitter.com/meadgruver .