Roger Steen: Increased setbacks needed
On page 5 of the Aug. 9 Steamboat Today, there is a notification from Bureau of Land Management to Northwest Colorado of another planned 100,000 acre oil and gas lease sale, scheduled for May 2017. Seventeen-thousand acres of this sale are to be in Routt County and 91 percent are split estates, meaning that the surface property owner is different from the hydrocarbon resource owner.
The associated maps show most of the leasing to be about one mile west of Oak Creek in townships 3N, 86W; 4N, 86W, and 5N, 86W, and about one mile south of Milner in township 6N, 86W. The maps are found at blm.gov/co/st/en/BLM_Programs/oilandgas/oil_and_gas_lease/2017/may_2017_lease_sale.html.
This BLM sale is driven by industry’s request for these federal resources to be put up for sale, which indicates that the industry is not dead but is positioning itself for more drilling and production when production becomes economical again.
The single most contentious landowner issue related to oil and gas wells and production is with the setback minimums, which are the minimum distances between drilling/production equipment and a house, or high-occupancy building (neighborhood school, hospital, church, etc.) regardless of who owns the surface. These distances are defined by the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission regulations.
The current COGCC regulations allow drilling and production equipment, which is essentially industrial equipment, as close as 500 feet from a residence and 1,000 feet from a high-occupancy building without the building owner’s consent (COGCC Rule 604 (a) and (b)). That is the minimum distance to the building, not property line or playground or parking lot. These setbacks can be waived if the landowner accepts having the equipment closer.
Setback minimums have not been a big issue to date in Routt County because the selected resource leases are located under farm/rangeland with few occupied buildings. But as well densities increase and housing and other occupied buildings continue to be constructed, serious conflicts will arise.
The subdivision of Battlement Mesa in Garfield County is experiencing this now. And, if you wish to see what can happen to your house, school, church, hospital, etc., when an oil and gas company chooses to exercise its current drilling and production rights at the minimum setbacks, visit Battlement Mesa. Impacts include hydrocarbon vapors emitted to the ambient air and the related health issues, smell, continual noise, visual obstruction, dust, truck traffic, night light and decreased property value.
The setback minimums should be increased. And, because of the now-common technology of directional drilling, these setback distances can be much greater without limiting the resource owner’s ability to extract the resource from beneath a house or high-occupancy building.
Industry is not known for offering to limit itself voluntarily for the public benefit out of its social consciousness. Citizen advocacy groups need to push for these changes. Groups including Western Colorado Congress, Conservation Colorado and others are focusing attention on this need through legislation in the coming year.
These are the same organizations, along with your Routt County commissioners, that were instrumental in getting the updated Colorado air emission rules for oil and gas operations applied to the Colorado West Slope in 2014.
If these current setbacks are a concern to you, be alert to the locations of new leases, be supportive of the efforts to increase these setbacks, and, of course, provide financial support to these citizens’ organizations. They are always up against a well-funded, special-interest group.
Western Colorado Congress
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