Some of our members and allied experts have come up with some potential talking points for addressing concerns about O&G location, siting, and setbacks. Your own experiences if you live near such facilities are also critical points of reference in advocating for strong regulation in Larimer County.
On the use of zoning for control of siting: Can be a useful tool, and provide set expectations for both a property owner and a potential O&G site developer.
A landowner can apply for a change of zoning, and zoning designations tend to be easier to change than set land use regulations. As such, zoning is not as resilient a tool for those concerned about encroachment of O&G in their neighborhood.
Some proposed O&G sites in our region are clearly heavy industrial complexes. Some local jurisdictions have opted to limiting their location to areas zoned as industrial.
On Alternative Location Analysis: Considered in some discussions as one of the most “important and dangerous” tools in a local government’s kit. The idea is for an O&G developer to propose alternative sites with an evaluation of the relative benefits or hazards of any location analyzed for local consideration. This presents the possibility that one of a range of sites may be described as the “safest” and should be approved. But a local government is empowered by SB-181 to deny approval of any application if it does not meet its criteria for safe operation and the protection of public health and the environment.
Some jurisdictions may require a minimum number of alternate siting options, some have no limits. The important thing that should come into play is that whatever site is to be approved, it must meet the local authority’s regulatory standards, and those can be more stringent than State rules. Which ever standards are most protective should apply, whether the State’s or the County’s.
On Setbacks and Reciprocal Setbacks: Although current COGCC regulations call for a 2,000 foot setback from all occupied buildings, other analyses of the effects of O&G development suggest a distance of 2,500 feet is more appropriate. The critical impact of emissions and the nuisance factors of noise, light, and dust are mitigated to some extent by such distancing from active well projects. There are also clear arguments for maintaining that distance from parks and open space, critical drainages, and wildlife habitat.
Reciprocal setbacks, also known informally as reverse setbacks, have to do with the location of new residential or other development near existing oil and gas facilities. Each project goes through different stages during its service life, with varying degrees of risk at each level of development and extraction. During its active phase, the most prudent course would be to maintain the same 2,500 foot setback of construction from the working wellpad.
Concerns about the integrity of any such facility do not cease when the well is finished producing and is shut down. Once a well plugged and abandoned, continued monitoring for potential leaks of methane and other compounds is necessary. Some experts indicate that any new construction in the vicinity should be kept at a minimum of 1,000 feet from the site, and more ranging out to 2,500 feet would be even better. Accidents associated with abandoned wells, while rare, can have catastrophic consequences, and close monitoring to assure against this may require attention for an indefinite period of time.
Special thanks to our friends and allies at LOGIC for their review and recommendations!