Buffer between wells, houses closer to law

Rule-making begins to set new space requirement of 500 feet

DENVER – Colorado’s natural-gas and oil regulators took steps Wednesday to increase the buffer zone between wells and houses.

Also Wednesday, the state announced a $1.3 million study of air pollution from gas and oil fields.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is hashing out a rule to create a 500-foot buffer zone between new wells and occupied buildings.

The commission voted down an attempt to reduce the buffer zone to 350 feet in rural areas Wednesday afternoon.

“A person in a rural county is the same as a person where I live in Denver County,” said commissioner Andy Spielman.

The rule allows companies to drill inside the buffer zone only if they get permission from the COGCC director, or if the landowner permits it and it doesn’t violate the buffer zone with neighboring houses.

However, the commission did not finish writing the rule, and it will have to return in a few weeks to finalize the rule.

A shale-drilling boom north of Denver has brought the industry into close contact with suburban families who aren’t used to drilling rigs and hydraulic-fracturing operations outside their homes. As a result, several anti-drilling groups have sprung up to try to ban fracking in Colorado.

The state’s new air-pollution study is designed to track pollution from wells and see how it effects human health.

Gov. John Hickenlooper previewed the study Tuesday afternoon during a speech to the City Club of Denver.

Hickenlooper touted natural gas as a medium-term way to cut greenhouse-gas pollution, and he vowed to cut pollution of methane – a potent greenhouse gas.

“Historically, we’ve let a lot of methane escape. We’re going to demand that that stop. We’re going to start measuring fields all over the state to make sure that we dramatically reduce fugitive methane and make sure they do capture it and use it so it’s not wasted,” Hickenlooper said.

Colorado State University will perform the study, which will begin in June and run through 2016. The study’s second phase will develop a health-risk assessment for people who live near gas fields.

The $1.3 million study will be paid for by fees levied on natural-gas and oil companies.

jhanel@durangoherald.com

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