New CO rules set gas wells 1000 feet from public buildings - Clarksburg, Morgantown: News, Sports, Weather

New Colorado rules set gas wells 1,000 feet from public buildings

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As the Legislature awaits an overdue evaluation of the state's horizontal gas well setback distance, Colorado has established different well setbacks of its own.

When the West Virginia Legislature passed the broad-ranging Natural Gas Horizontal Well Control Act in December 2011, it established a setback distance of 625 feet from the center of a wellpad to an occupied dwelling.

It also asked for a follow-up evaluation from the state Department of Environmental Protection. Given the noise, light, dust and volatile organic compounds generated by the drilling of horizontal wells, is 625 feet sufficient? That study was due Dec. 31 and is still in preparation, according to the DEP.

Meanwhile, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission finalized new well setback distances on Feb. 11 for that state where, as in West Virginia, horizontal drilling is increasingly active and is encroaching more and more often on settled areas.

The new rules establish a setback distance of 500 feet from buildings, with additional specifics.

Operators drilling within 1,000 feet of a home will be required to take additional steps to limit disruptions — using devices to capture emissions, for example, and to minimize noise.

Drilling within 1,000 feet of buildings with large numbers of people, such as schools and nursing homes, will require commission approval.

Operators also will be allowed to seek approval from landowners to drill closer than 500 feet or to apply for variances to drill within the buffer.

The rule represents a compromise between industry and environmental interests.

Some argued that there is not enough information about health and environmental effects to establish setback distances with any scientific foundation. The state is awaiting data on air quality and public health effects of energy development that will come from a three-year study under way by Colorado State University.