Feb 16, 2022 - Business

Oil and gas company challenges Colorado's no-drill zone

Oil drilling equipment sits in a Weld County lot in 2020. Photo: Michael Ciaglo/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The no-drill zone the state created to prevent oil and gas operations from encroaching on neighborhoods faces a precedent-setting challenge Wednesday.

What's happening: The state's largest oil and gas driller, Occidental Petroleum, is requesting permission from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to drill 33 wells at two sites within 2,000 feet of 94 homes in Firestone, the Colorado Sun reports.

  • The closest home at the McGavin site, which is the most contentious, is 763 feet away, just more than a tenth of a mile.
  • The location is a few miles from where a home explosion in 2017 killed two people. The cause was a severed oil and gas line.

State of play: The commission's director, Julie Murphy, said Occidental's application follows the rules, but punted the question of approval to the "discretion of the commission."

  • State health officials recommended denying the application if certain criteria weren't met.

Why it matters: Colorado shifted its approach to permitting oil and gas in 2019 with the landmark Senate Bill 181, which put an emphasis on protecting public health and safety, rather than promoting the industry.

  • It led to the 2,000-foot setback rule, but also carved out exceptions under certain circumstances, a caveat commission chair Jeff Robbins supports.
  • The approval of the latest permit, advocates say, would essentially negate the new protections the Democratic governor and lawmakers authored.

What they're saying: "If they approve this one, what won’t they approve?" Kate Christensen at the environmental group 350 Colorado told the Sun. "If they approve this one it will be like … nothing really ever changed."

Between the lines: The state's oil and gas commission has approved two waivers to permit drilling within 2,000 feet of residential developments, both in Weld County.

  • In one case, the homeowner approved and in the other only a few homes were affected.

The other side: Energy company Kerr-McGee promised to take a number of mitigation steps, including 32-foot walls to reduce the noise and light from the operations. It also said it would add odor-neutralizing products and continually monitor air quality.

Zoom in: Still, the production will disrupt the current landscape and involve thousands of truck trips. Nearby homeowners are concerned.

  • "If we had known they were going to put in 26 wells in that field we wouldn’t have moved here," resident Bill Coffee, told the Sun. "They are basically putting an industrial activity right in the middle of a residential and recreational area."
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