CASPER, Wyo. — The Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission voted Tuesday to reject a citizens' petition calling for the state to update its rules governing the oil and gas industry.
The petition was submitted by the Powder River Basin Resource Council, a landowners group, almost a year ago. It requested the state raise the minimum distance between residences and energy operations, limit flaring -- the practice where oil operators burn off excess natural gas at well sites -- and increase the bonds operators pay on wells.
The state has already launched its own review of setbacks and flaring, commissioners said, making the petition unnecessary.
"To me it was appropriate we had the rejection. What was not appropriate is it took too long. We should have acted more quickly on that," said Gov. Matt Mead, who sits on the commission. "But part of that is the direction we want to go, which is: We want to look at these very things. We have setbacks. We have flaring. We want to take them one at a time because they are complex."
The issue of flaring and setbacks has risen to the fore with the advent of new oil drilling along the outskirts of Douglas and Cheyenne in recent years. Some landowners have expressed concern about the proximity of industry operations to their homes, worrying about the potential health impacts and complaining about traffic and noise.
The state will first consider the minimum distance between homes and oil and gas operations, now 350 feet, before moving to other topics.
Jill Morrison, an organizer at the Powder River Basin Resource Council, said the petition served its purpose by pushing the commission to confront the issues. The group will petition for individual wells to be moved farther from residences and businesses while the commission does its review, Morrison said.
"We are not going to sit back and wait for increased setbacks where these wells are being proposed next to peoples' homes, businesses and schools," Morrison said. "We can't wait. We've already waited a year. They are still permitting (wells)."
The prospect of increased setbacks may make it more difficult for operators to reach the minerals they are seeking to extract, said John Robitaille, vice president of the Petroleum Association of Wyoming, an industry group. Landowners can already petition for wells to be moved farther from their homes, he said, adding, "that option has been available for years."
In an interview after the meeting, Mead said he wanted the state to prioritize setbacks because it was less complex than flaring.
"We're going to be talking about a number and why that's the right number or the wrong number," Mead said. "I'm not saying there won't be a lot of controversy, but we can certainly get that done."