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Wyoming seeks to widen space between wells, homes

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CASPER, Wyo. (AP) — Wyoming regulators are looking at widening the minimum allowable distance between homes and oil and gas wells, a change industry officials say isn't needed and some landowners say likely won't be big enough.

Wyoming's current standard of 350 feet allows oil and gas wells to be drilled closer to homes, schools, hospitals and other types of buildings than other states permit.

In North Dakota and Colorado, the minimum well setback distance is 500 feet. In Texas, regulators leave it up to cities to decide distances, which range from 600 feet in Fort Worth to 1,500 feet in Dallas.

The Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, which oversees oil and gas drilling in the state, plans to propose a new setback distance in the months ahead, the Casper Star-Tribune reported Monday (http://bit.ly/1mUKsFE ).

Some residents of Douglas, where oil wells now ring the town, and Cheyenne, where drilling has been ramping up, have been seeking a wider setback.

The issue comes up relatively rarely compared with the number of wells drilled in the state, Wyoming Oil and Gas Supervisor Mark Watson said.

The Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, which Watson directs, found that only 0.05 percent of drilling permits submitted during a four-month period this year were within 500 to 700 feet of a dwelling.

Nonetheless, the directive to review the setback law came from Gov. Matt Mead, who chairs the commission, and Watson said he's taking it seriously.

"The landowners, the ones I've met with, they are not against fracking like (people in) some other states, but they say, 'Why does it have to be so close to my house?'" Watson said, referring to hydraulic fracturing, the method of boosting the productivity of oil and gas wells as they are being developed.

The Petroleum Association of Wyoming is leery of changing the setback distance. State regulations give the oil and gas supervisor the ability to expand the distance on a case-by-case basis, group Vice President John Robitaille said.

"I'd like to see the commission use the rules they already have," Robitaille said. "Our state is changing, but again, why are we not using the existing rule to its full effect?"

The Powder River Basin Resource Council, a landowners group, ideally would like a one-mile setback but knows that would not likely be adopted, so it's asking for a quarter-mile standard instead, said Jill Morrison with the group.

"Wyoming is not in a position with its current rules and regulations to protect people's health and safety," Morrison said.

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Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, http://www.trib.com

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