Colorado’s suburban homeowners face invasion of oil and gas wells

RinnValleyRanch_Denver_Post

Rinn Valley Ranch Map - Source - The Denver Post

By Mark Jaffe
The Denver Post – 07/17/2011

“Not what you expect when you go for a walk with the dog,” Banfield said.

But Banfield and her neighbors in Rinn Valley Ranch — a Weld County development where homes sell for more than $400,000 — are learning what to expect when a drilling site becomes a neighbor.

Oil and gas industry officials say there is also a challenge for the industry.

“As we move into more urban areas, we will have to work harder to address people’s concerns,” said Do

 

ug Hock, a spokesman for Encana Oil & Gas. “The whole industry will have to do a better job.”

At its Rinn Valley well, Encana appears to have met all the state’s requirements and even special conditions attached to its permit, state regulators said.

Even with all that, environmental advocates believe Banfield’s experience underscores the limitations in Colorado’s oil and gas regulations, passed in 2008 in the face of industry opposition.

“The rules are an improvement, but there are gaps, and as drilling increases in suburban areas, those gaps are going to become more visible,” said Mike Freeman, an attorney with Earthjustice, a nonprofit public interest law firm.

For example, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission deferred a decision on setbacks for wells — leaving the standard at 350 feet in developed areas.

“Some people thought it was too politically charged to deal with,” said Traci Haupt, a former Garfield County commissioner who served on the oil and gas commission.

The 2008 rule revision did not look at noise regulations, Haupt said.

“It wasn’t even on the list, and it needs to be updated,” she said.

Some counties have stepped in with their own rules.

La Plata County has imposed a 400-foot setback requirement, and Gunnison County has had a 500-foot setback rule. Fort Worth, Texas — scene of some of the most active urban drilling — has a 600-foot setback rule.

Nine out of 10 wells drilled in Colorado are at least 500 feet away from the nearest building, according to Dave Neslin, executive director of the oil and gas commission.

As drilling moves into more developed areas, the commission “may have to revisit the issue,” Neslin said.

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