Oil and gas conservation commission

Stephanie Joyce

People packed into a public hearing Monday about proposed changes to the rules governing how far oil and gas drilling has to be from homes and schools. The Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is proposing to increase the "setback" distance from 350 feet to 500 feet. 

But Chuck White, who lives east of Cheyenne, told the Commission that 500 feet simply isn’t far enough for modern drilling operations.

Willow Belden

Interim Oil and Gas Supervisor Mark Watson says he's making it a priority to review Wyoming's setback rules.

Setback rules govern how close oil and gas development can be to things like houses and streams. The current limit is 350 feet.

At an Oil and Gas Commission meeting Tuesday night in Casper, several residents said they'd like to see the distance raised to a mile, because of concerns about potential health impacts of energy production. Watson says they're asking a lot.

NETL/DOE

The state held its first-ever public meeting about the issue of orphaned and idle gas wells Wednesday in Gillette. 

The coal bed methane boom left more than a thousand potentially hazardous, abandoned wells on state and private lands in Wyoming, and landowners turned out in droves to learn about the Governor’s plan for plugging them.

The Wyoming Supreme Court heard a case Wednesday challenging the state’s process for exempting fracking chemicals from public disclosure. Wyoming was the first state in the nation to adopt a disclosure law, but it included what some say is a massive loophole: companies can petition for what’s called a trade secret exemption. They’ve done that more than a hundred times since the law went into effect in 2010.

Ladder Ranch

For most of Wyoming's history, mineral rights have clearly taken precedence over surface rights. But in 2005, the Legislature passed a split estate law which, for the first time, gave surface owners some say over how their land could be used to access the minerals below it. It was a big change, but many have argued since that it didn’t go far enough.

As Wyoming Public Radio’s Stephanie Joyce reports, a case heard by the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission this week tested the limits of the law, and the rights of surface owners.

The Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission says it hopes to file a report about well bore integrity in Pavillion by the end of the year.

The report will be part of a larger effort to figure out the causes of groundwater contamination in Pavillion. The study will include a total of about 50 oil and gas exploration and production wells located within a quarter mile of 14 domestic water wells.

The University of Wisconsin

Wyoming’s new energy policy places a central focus on requiring oil and gas developers to conduct baseline groundwater testing, and the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has been tasked with drafting the new rules for the testing.

 The Gov. Matt Mead’s Natural Resource Policy Advisor, Jerimiah Rieman, told the legislature’s Joint Minerals Committee today that the initiative is like a cheap insurance policy for industry.

Willow Belden

Oil development in the state is bringing up natural gas along with the oil, but some of the gas is getting burned off in flares and the state is missing out on taxes and royalty payments. The reason the gas is getting flared is that there are not enough pipelines in place to connect new wells to markets.

The President of the Wyoming Petroleum Association, Bruce Hinchey, says it doesn’t always make sense to build new pipelines for the relatively small quantities of gas coming up.

Seismic exploration company, GeoKinetics, has been fined for failing to properly reclaim land damaged during work it did with Fidelity Exploration and Production Company in southeast Wyoming.

Last May, the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission issued a fine for $20,000 for damages to ranchers’ land, but half of it was suspended pending successful reclamation. Now the remaining $10,000 has been re-imposed by the Commission.

Irina Zhorov

During its hearing today/Tuesday, the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission reaffirmed its earlier decision to grant Encana an exemption that permits them to pump produced water deep into the Madison aquifer. The injection well is located about 60 miles west of Casper.

The oil and gas development company asked for the exemption based on the Commission’s economic and technological impracticality criteria…which grants an exemption based on the idea that it’s impractical to use the aquifer for drinking water anyway.

Irina Zhorov

During its hearing today/Tuesday, the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission reaffirmed its earlier decision to grant Encana an exemption that permits them to pump produced water deep into the Madison aquifer. The injection well is located about 60 miles west of Casper.

The oil and gas development company asked for the exemption based on the Commission’s economic and technological impracticality criteria…which grants an exemption based on the idea that it’s impractical to use the aquifer for drinking water anyway.

The Western Organization of Resource Councils says inspections of active oil and gas wells in the West are falling behind the industry’s quick growth. The new report says the number of active oil and gas wells in Wyoming has risen from about 16,400 in 1999 to more than 37,000 in 2011. The number of inspectors increased from 6 to 12 in the same time period. Each inspector was responsible for more than 3,000 wells in 2011. 

Powder River Basin Resource Council Board Chairman John Fenton says that spreads each inspector thin.

The Wyoming Senate continued work on a bill that would require companies doing seismic exploration for minerals to post bonds or negotiate a contract with the surface owners.

Proponents say seismic operators sometimes trespass on private property.

Several environmental groups went to district court today in Casper to argue that the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission must disclose information about chemicals being used in hydraulic fracturing around the state. Wyoming was the first state to require companies to disclose such information, yet since that law went into effect, the Oil and Gas Commission has granted almost all secrecy requests from companies claiming that some of the chemicals are proprietary information.