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Wyoming Considers Increasing Setbacks for Oil/Gas Drilling

The Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (WOGCC) is considering increasing oil and natural gas drilling setbacks from homes beyond the current 350-foot requirement. There is nothing on the current WOGCC agenda, however.

"They haven't done anything about it yet, but [the commission staff] have been talking about it," said John Robitaille, a vice president with the Petroleum Association of Wyoming (PAW), referring to a recent petition from the Powder River Basin Resource Council and other advocacy groups, which also asked for a review of state rules on flaring of associated gas at the wellhead (see Shale Daily, Jan. 9).

"So far, nothing has been filed as far as what the [WOGCC] is going to do," said Robitaille.

Grant Black, WOGCC director, said the time frame hasn't been determined, but the commission is examining the issue internally, and he hopes something will be completed this year, including a rulemaking process, which can take up to six months.

"What's created the concern is the increase of drilling nearer to developed areas," commonly called "ranchettes" in Wyoming, including homes on five- to 20-acre parcels, Black told NGI's Shale Daily.

The increasingly robust drilling, particularly for oil, has come in part parts of the Powder River Basin near Douglas, and also in part of the Denver Julesburg Basin near Cheyenne. Environmental groups are advocating that the setback be extended, even though the proximity to residential backyards in Wyoming is not as close as in other states touched by the shale boom.

Reviewing the setback rules is not specifically detailed in the 47 initiatives in Gov. Matt Mead's energy strategy now being implemented by the state government (see Shale Daily, May 20, 2013), but it easily inferred as part of the strategy's call for a "comprehensive rule review," Black said.

PAW has yet to take a stand on the setback rule, and Robitaille said operators look at the 350-foot requirement as an "absolute minimum." He knows of only one case where a well is that close to a home, and he is still trying to verify if the home was built after the well was drilled.

"If you're in that situation [where the 350-foot limit is an issue], there are all kinds of things an operator can do, including moving the drilling location," Robitaille said. "The rule doesn't mean anyone is going to go out and drill a well exactly 350 feet from a home."

What has prompted the environmental concerns has been new oil drilling in portions of the southern Powder River Basin, he said. "References to the Niobrara Shale formation being involved are incorrect. The drilling has been coming into areas that are already developed," said Black, adding that in his past work in Colorado the issue of development moving toward existing oil/gas operations was raised. "People argued that there ought to be setbacks imposed on both sides -- the development of oil/gas and the development of habitable property.

"It is just something we are going to take a look at, we don't have a specific time frame, but I am hopeful we can get this accomplished this year."

In addition to the setback rule, the resource council has also raised the flaring issue, and the WOGCC itself is looking at bonding requirements for drillers as the exploration/production activity picks up.

"There are all kinds of issues floating out there, but nothing has been put formally into place," Robitaille told NGI's Shale Daily.

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