New rule requires oil and gas wells to be no closer than 500 feet from occupied structures
April 21, 2015
On April 14th, the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission approved a new rule that requires oil and gas companies to drill wells no closer than 500 feet from existing occupied structures – a bump up from the previously allowable 350 feet.
The rule defines occupied structure as a building specifically constructed and approved for human occupancy such as a residence, school, workplace or hospital. Outbuildings such as sheds, barns or garages are not considered occupied structures.
The updated rule falls short of environmentalists’ request for a quarter-mile buffer and isn’t even as large as commission staff’s initial proposal of 750 feet in fall 2014. Some argue that public health and safety has taken a backseat to energy accessibility.
Oil and Gas Supervisor Mark Watson went through a section-by-section explanation of the new rule. He noted that a definition of production facilities was added. That language in the rule means any building or equipment used for the purpose of producing, treating or separating produced fluids and gas. The rule includes but does not limit the definition for pumps, compressors, generators, gas flares, treaters, separators, storage tanks and pits.
The supervisor may approve variances to the setback rule if the owner(s) of occupied structures give written approval. If good cause is shown, the supervisor may approve or deny a variance and either the landowner or the oil and gas operator may request a hearing before the commission. The rule encourages oil and gas operators to locate production facilities "at a greater distance from occupied structures where technically feasible."
Another provision added since last year’s discussions by the Commission and public comments requires oil and gas operators to give between 30 and 180 days’ notice to owners of occupied structures if the well will be located within 1,000 feet of the structure. The operator has to provide appropriate contact information about the well; a notice that a new well will follow an estimated construction, drilling and completion schedule; technical information that identifies the well location; and a description of best management practices and specific measures the operator will take to mitigate "reasonably foreseeable impacts to the owners of occupied structures." Operators must consider potential noise, lighting, dust, orientation of the drilling pad and traffic.
The rule then requires that 15 days prior to construction of a drilling pad or site for production facilities a report detailing actions taken by the operator to communicate with owners of the occupied structures. Comments from those owners must also be submitted in the report. Measures to mitigate potentially negative impacts on structure owners will be in the report. Landowners may ask the supervisor in writing to waive these requirements.
The rule will go into effect 75 days from the April 14, 2015 commission meeting.