- Associated Press - Friday, January 24, 2014

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - State officials said they might consider increasing the current 350-foot minimum distance that oil and gas wells must be located away from homes as a way to avoid problems as drilling creeps closer to residential areas in eastern Wyoming.

The issue is a priority for the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, the state agency that regulates oil and gas drilling, said Grant Black, director of the agency.

“We’re going to look at the health and safety, obviously, and make sure if changes need to be made they’re as appropriate as possible,” Black said Wednesday.

The process will involve looking at rules in other states and the experiences that people have had with oil and gas drilling near homes, he said.

Until a couple years ago, Wyoming’s sparse population enabled most oil and gas drilling to occur far from homes and businesses.

Now, the Niobrara Shale oil boom is prompting wells to be drilled closer to homes in the Douglas and Cheyenne areas, though not just beyond the back fence as occurs in urban areas of other states.

Jill Morrison with the Powder River Basin Resource Council said Wyoming should expand the 350-foot zone before more drilling occurs.

The group asked the commission in May to reduce flaring - the process of burning off excess gas from oil wells - and to address spills associated with oil and gas drilling. The group also requested an expansion of the minimum setback.

“It’s really important for the commission to act sooner rather than later on that issue in terms of a public service,” Morrison said.

Gov. Matt Mead’s state energy strategy released last year called for a review of Wyoming’s oil and gas drilling regulations. Changes the commission has adopted since then include a rule set to take effect in March that requires companies to test nearby water wells for pollution before and after drilling.

Looking at the well setback rule is part of that ongoing review, said Shawn Reese, Mead’s policy director.

“There’s a number of pieces of the energy strategy that tie into this,” Reese said.

The current standard - about the distance of a football field, including the end zones - applies to homes, schools, hospitals and any other location the oil and gas supervisor deems appropriate, according to the current commission rules.

The Petroleum Association of Wyoming hasn’t yet formed a position on well setbacks, said Vice President John Robitaille.

“We really haven’t discussed it in detail, but when the commission begins to take up that discussion we’ll be more fully engaged and form more of an opinion on it,” he said.


Follow Mead Gruver at https://twitter.com/meadgruver

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