DENVER (AP) — Colorado officials considering changes to rules on how far oil and natural gas wells should be from houses, schools and other buildings will have to balance concerns of not just environmentalists and residents but also industry groups, farmers and ranchers and real estate agents.
The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is set to hold a hearing Wednesday on proposed new rules on "setbacks," or how far oil and natural gas wells should be from houses, schools and other buildings. The discussion could continue into January, if needed. Any changes would have to ultimately be approved by the Legislature.
Also on the agenda are proposed rules for sampling and monitoring of groundwater near proposed new wells, which could help show whether water has or hasn't been contaminated by drilling. Conservation groups are already saying the proposed rules could be stronger.
Conservation Colorado, a coalition of about 100 environmental groups, argues the water sampling proposal is weak and wants the state to require testing of more than two water samples.
While some energy companies are shifting their focus away from natural gas-rich areas of Colorado, other companies including Anadarko Petroleum Corp. have plans to add wells in the state. That has raised concerns from residents about drilling in their neighborhoods as rigs move closer to more populated areas.
The hearing comes a week after voters in Longmont passed a ban on hydraulic fracturing in the city. The process, known as fracking, uses water, sand and chemicals to crack open rock deep below the ground. Fort Collins is also preparing to consider its own rules on oil and gas drilling.
Current rules generally say wells must be at least 150 feet away from buildings in rural areas, or 350 feet in high-density areas. The proposed changes would keep drilling at least 200 feet away, and commission approval would be required for wells within 750 feet of high-occupancy buildings like hospitals or schools.
Drillers would have to consult with building owners on the location of new wells within 350 feet of buildings.
There could be exceptions if a company wants to add a new well to an existing location.
Some environmental groups support keeping wells at least 1,000 feet back from buildings, but the Colorado Cattlemen's Association and Colorado Farm Bureau say setbacks that large could mean wells in the middle of farmland instead of closer to existing agricultural buildings.
Groups including the cattlemen's association, Farm Bureau and Colorado Oil & Gas Association said last week that increased setbacks require longer drilling distances, which could in turn mean longer drilling times and more truck traffic, fuel consumption and engine emissions.
Environmental groups say larger setbacks will help protect public health and the environment.
The commission also is considering updates on what companies should do to mitigate effects of drilling, like noise and dust.