This drilling rig is on the edge of a development near Frederick, Colorado, in the I-25 corridor. The corridor between Denver and Fort Collins is mixed ag land and housing development, with rigs, pumpjacks, and compressor stations bumping up against housing. My map calls this the Spindle Oil Field.
I travel the I-25 corridor to Fort Collins regularly and mark the increase in energy development along the route, drilling rigs in corn and sunflower fields next to housing developments. Colorado is considering new setback regulations to regulate minimum distances between drilling pads and various types of development. Knowing what we know today about fracking (hydraulic fracturing) and the proprietary cocktail of 550 or so chemicals that get pumped into the earth to release gas and oil, what’s a comfortable distance to live in proximity to a drill pad? Is 350 feet far enough? (current housing reg.) How about 500? One of the comments in a recent Greeley Tribune article caught my eye: “We acknowledge that public interest is driving the call for increased setbacks, and we are interested in discussing the practices that can address these concerns in urban drilling,” COGA president and CEO Tisha Schuller said recently in a prepared release. “At the same time, we cannot forget the stakeholders most affected by drilling. Any setback solution must acknowledge the legal, regulatory, and technical complexity of well-siting.”
It’s understandable that ranchers and farmers want to negotiate where a well will be sited on their land and I agree that siting impacts profitability of the operation and fragments habitat, often restricting wildlife movements. We should have that kind of flexibility with ranches and farms, so long as there’s not a housing development or school next door. The primary role of government is to protect us, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with applying rigid setback regulations for these fracking operations. Ms. Schuller is right, we must acknowledge the technical complexity of well-siting for the health and well-being of those who happen to live and learn next to these toxic operations. Some places can be off-limts, that’s a moral imperitive in my judgement. I’d like to ask Ms. Sculler how close she would be willing to live next to a fracking rig, never dark or quiet, belching pollutants and storing hazardous chemicals on site. My guess is that 350 feet for housing, just over the length of a football field, would be too lose for comfort.