New Drilling Rules Could Hurt Agriculture Industry
KREX News Room
GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. - After several days of deliberations, the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission is set to formally adopt on Thursday new rules to limit drilling impacts in the state.
These changes, however, have groups around Colorado's Western Slope worried.
"A setback is the distance between a residential structure or a business and the actual drilling rig," explained David Ludlam with the West Slope Colorado Oil & Gas Association.
Currently, no drilling can occur within 150 feet of a structure in rural areas or 350 feet in urban areas. That distance has been extended to a uniform 500 feet statewide.
"Rules that are needed on the Front Range may not be the same ones over here. We don't think a one-size-fits-all approach is a good one," Ludlam added.
Some 20 Western Slope agencies have formed a business/citizens' coalition to oppose these new measures that are more rigorous than others around the country.
"Those who are damaged the most by it are the farmers, ranchers, and home builders," said Ludlam.
"This is an issue that most of the public is unaware of. [The new rules will have] unintended consequences for agriculture," explained Richard Connell with the Colorado Farm Bureau.
The organization says the setback change will hinder farmers' and ranchers' ability to develop homes or other structures, irrigation systems, and crops on their land. With the 500-foot setback, more room will be required; in many cases, the amount of acreage taken up in the setback is more than smaller farms have to work with.
"All of those issues will lead to a decrease in property value," Connell added.
With less land to farm on, it could also mean a decrease in product yields, which would affect prices at the market.
"If the local supplies diminish, then the local price increases," said Connell.
The Farm Bureau is calling it unprecedented government reach.
"In fact, we consider this to be a taking of private property rights," added Connell.
But some conservation groups don't think the new 500-foot setbacks are enough.
An official with Western Resource Advocates said in a statement, "Citizens and scientists both testified that drilling setbacks of 1,000 feet or more are needed to protect Colorado families living in the gas patch who are getting sick."
The Conservation Commission listened to three days of testimony, during which they allowed all sides to make their case.
In a press release, the group said, "We understand that these rules do not leave any one group of interests completely satisfied. We do expect most everyone who worked collaboratively with us will see components they helped initiate incorporated into these rules."
The full list of rules to be approved is as follows:
1. Operators proposing to drill within 1,000 feet of an occupied structure would be required to meet new and enhanced measures to limit the disruptions a nearby drill site can create. Those measures include closed loop drilling that eliminates pits, liner standards to protect against spills, capture of gases to reduce odors and emissions, and as strict controls on the nuisance impacts of noise, dust and lighting.
2. Existing setback standards of 150 feet in rural areas and 350 feet in urban areas are extended to a uniform 500 feet statewide.
3. Operators cannot operate within 1,000 feet of buildings housing larger numbers of people, such as schools, nursing homes, and hospitals, without a hearing before the Commission.
4. Operators must engage in expanded notice and outreach efforts with nearby residents and conduct additional engagement with local governments about proposed operations. As part of this, operators proposing drilling within 1,000 feet must meet with anyone within that area who asks.
The changes are set to be approved Thursday.