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Setback rule for wells ups requirement to 500 feet

Apr 15, 2015 By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

The Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has approved increasing the "setback" distance between oil and gas equipment and occupied structures to 500 feet.

"The new setback rule provides increased protective measures to owners of offset occupied structures, such as residences, schools, offices or other places of work, and hospitals by increasing the setback distance and providing for communication between oil and gas operators and homeowners," the commission stated Tuesday in a news release.

Under the rule, oil and natural companies must locate their wells, drilling equipment and production facilities at least 500 feet from any occupied structures, defined as buildings built for people to occupy. The rule does not apply to facilities such as sheds and barns.

Oil and gas companies also would be required to notify owners of occupied structures within 1,000 feet of a proposed well site about the planned activities.

Prior to the change, the setback distance had been 350 feet, about the length of a football field from the back of one end zone to the other.

Some landowners in the state had called for increasing the setback distance to a quarter of a mile.

The hydrocarbon industry did not oppose increasing the distance, but industry leaders were was strongly against a setback distance of more than 500 feet.

Waiver request

The trade group Petroleum Association of Wyoming said it would support the 500-foot distance even though it believes the 350-foot setback distance already protected people who live near oil and gas developments and to protect mineral rights.

"Any additional across-the-board increase in setback distance would unnecessarily risk the waste of oil and gas and the taking of valuable mineral rights in violation of Wyoming law," John Robitaille, PAW vice president, wrote in formal comments.

Devon Energy, which has an office in Riverton, said it agreed with PAW's position in a letter from its senior manager of regulatory affairs, Randy Bolles.

The company also requested the setback rule allow for waivers of the distance if oil and gas companies and owners of occupied structures reach an agreement.

Landowner positions

Evelyn and Marvin Griffin, residents of the Pavillion area, called for a greater set back distance.

"The proposed 500-foot setback favors industry over the protections of Wyoming citizens and their property," the couple wrote in submitted comments.

"Industry is usually favored because of the money brought in to the state. This is in disregard for the citizens."

Nearby oil and gas drilling hurts property values and increases homeowner insurance policies, the Griffins said.

The 24 natural gas wells on their property have damaged their health as well, they wrote.

Oil and gas companies are considering increasing developments in Laramie County near Cheyenne, and many comments were focused on that area.

"The proposed 500-foot setback of wells and associated production facilities from occupied structures is inadequate to protect the health and safety of nearby residents," wrote Alex Bowler, president of the Cheyenne Area Landowner's Coalition.

He claimed to represent 200 rural residents in Laramie County and said a 1,320-foot, or one quarter mile, setback would be appropriate. PAW argues that a larger setback would have reduced the amount of land available for drilling, particularly in Laramie County where residential development sprawls.

Cutting space for drilling means fewer wells, leading to an impact on public finances and the local economy, the organization said.

PAW drew on data from one company planning a development in the county.

Increasing the setback 500 feet from 350 feet would eliminate 20 wells, meaning $6.4 million less in taxes and 32 fewer jobs over five years. Raising the distance to 1,320 feet would preclude 540 wells and cut taxes by $173 million and employment by 858 jobs.

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