Just like a 25-year-old car needs some mechanical work once in a while, La Plata County’s natural-gas and oil regulations have needed some touching up lately.
Some code provisions conflicted with one another and with new state rules while others needed clearer language. On Tuesday, county commissioners approved a host of revisions to provide some much-needed sprucing up for Chapter 90, the portion of the code created in 1988 that deals with land uses related to the county’s natural-gas and oil production.
Though the list of revisions was long, most items were small clarifications or changes made to align the county’s code with new rules approved by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission this spring. The revisions won’t hugely alter the way drilling and production occurs in the county, said Courtney Roseberry, a natural-resources planner with the county.
One of the main goals of the county’s code changes was to align with oil and gas commission rules establishing new setback distances, mitigation measures and noticing and meeting requirements for gas and oil operators statewide. The state rules went into effect Aug. 1.
In response, La Plata County increased its setback requirements from 450 feet to 500 feet. The county setbacks apply to all gas and oil facilities, regardless of where they are located, even though state setback rules vary based on the population density of an area.
The county’s rule modifications don’t change the fact that gas and oil facilities within 1,000 feet of a building will need to comply with newly enacted oil and gas commission rules regarding sight, noise and emissions-mitigation measures as well as resident noticing and meeting requirements.
During the weeks before Aug. 1, the oil and gas commission received an influx of drilling permits for wells in La Plata County – 27 permit applications in July compared with the 47 permits that were pending or approved in all of 2013.
After looking at the numbers, oil and gas commission staff members realized operators were rushing to submit or renew drilling permit applications before the new setback rules went into effect, said Mark Weems, the oil and gas commission’s regional engineer for Southwest Colorado.
“People are people – they are resistant to change because change requires learning and getting used to it,” Weems said. “The old way, people can do it faster and quicker.”
Another new tweak to the county’s rules will require operators planning to redrill a well to give notice to landowners within one-quarter mile of the parcel where the well is located. Such noticing is required by the state in most circumstances, but the county’s regulations cover the few times it wouldn’t be required. Operators rarely redrill wells in the county, but the rule ensures a rig won’t spring up without landowners knowing it, Roseberry said.
“That really angers people when a drill rig shows up out of the middle of nowhere,” she said.
The Chapter 90 code revisions were well-received by local industry representatives and got the nod of approval from Commissioner Gwen Lachelt and Bobby Lieb (Commissioner Julie Westendorff was absent), though Lachelt expressed reservations about the gas and oil code revision process in general.
“Staff is aware of my general concern that we’ve been moving pretty fast with this update,” Lachelt said.
She reiterated her hope that the county will look at updating its gas and oil rules to address shale development and horizontal drilling.