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Landowners, Industry Disagree On Drilling Distance

Stephanie Joyce

People packed into a public hearing Monday about proposed changes to the rules governing how far oil and gas drilling has to be from homes and schools. The Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is proposing to increase the "setback" distance from 350 feet to 500 feet. 

But Chuck White, who lives east of Cheyenne, told the Commission that 500 feet simply isn’t far enough for modern drilling operations.

“I look at this fine painting you have over here on the wall of what the oil wells were 30, 40 years ago when a lot of these rules were set up, and then I look at the pictures that they put on the TV there and you see something that’s covering 8 or 12 acres. That would cover nearly both of those wells in that picture.”

White and many other landowners called for the Commission to increase the setback distance to a quarter mile, citing safety and health concerns. 

But industry said that would effectively ban companies from being able to access the oil and gas reserves they own. John Robitaille, with the Petroleum Association of Wyoming, says although the focus has been on distance, more attention should be paid to provisions in the rule that require companies to submit mitigation plans when working within 1000 feet of homes.

“There are numerous things that can be done, there can be berms built, there can be walls put up, there can be hay bales put up, lights can be shaded down, all of these things are being done in various places, but I think they should be done in more places," Robitaille said. "They should be done all the time.”

The rule also requires increased communication between nearby landowners and oil and gas companies. Right now, companies aren't required to notify neighbors of drilling plans. Under the rule, companies would have to communicate about plans between 30 and 180 days before they start drilling. Landowner groups like the Powder River Basin Resource Council said that's not enough and urged the Commission to require notification before an application for permit to drill is filed.

The Commission took the comments under advisement and expects to make a decision at its April meeting.  

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