CASPER, Wyo. -- A coalition of Wyoming residents and landowner groups has formally asked the state's oil and gas regulatory agency to tighten its rules for flaring natural gas.
The Powder River Basin Resource Council led the group -- which included citizens' groups in Laramie, Sublette County, Cheyenne and Pavillion among others -- in submitting a series of oil and gas drilling rules changes to the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission on Monday.
Among the coalition's requested rules changes are stricter allowances on when companies can flare gas, how much gas they're allowed to flare and how far away they must be from other structures. The proposed changes also add more penalties for spills which impact nearby landowners.
"We always talk about developing energy on our own terms," said Marcia Shanor, chairwoman of the Equality State Policy Center, a Casper group which also signed the petition. "Flaring gas means we lose a valuable resource and forgo royalties and tax revenue while polluting our good Wyoming air. That’s not development on our own terms."
State oil-and-gas supervisor Grant Black said Monday that he hasn't seen the petition, but will review it in accordance with commission rules.
"Listening to what anyone has to offer about their experiences and concerns is important," he said. "It's important that we communicate well and listen to all those concerns."
Flaring is a common practice in which companies drilling for oil burn off associated natural gas instead of simply venting it into the air as pollution. Producers often cite a lack of infrastructure to handle the gas as a reason to burn it instead of storing or transporting it for sale.
Companies are typically allowed by the commission to flare unregulated for 15 days while testing initial production from wells. If the company for any reason needs to flare longer, it must apply for permission from the oil and gas commission, which governs how much gas can be flared and for how long.
Within 90 days of construction, each producer must also apply to the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality for an air permit. The permits typically take two or three months to process, during which time the entire well pad is governed by a presumptive agreement that sets an efficiency threshold for any associated gas flares.
The coalition's proposal would change how the commission regulates the flares.
Under the proposed changes, companies would be given seven days to test wells, less than half the time afforded by current law. In that time, the company couldn't exceed 1.5 million cubic feet of gas.
The groups also asked that all requests for flaring extensions go to a public hearing before the entire commission. Even then, the commission would only be able to approve up to 250,000 cubic feet of gas per day per extension under the proposed rules, with each application topping out at three months. Each applicant would also be forced to estimate an amount of revenue the state would lose by allowing the gas to be burned.
A Star-Tribune investigation in November showed that many active flaring applications at the time were for less than 100,000 cubic feet per day, with the greatest daily rate being 750,000. Most extensions lasted about six months.
The proposed rules also require proof of notice sent to all landowners within a mile, and that noise reducers be installed around the flares within a mile of other structures.
The rules also seek to change how close to other properties the flares can come.
The proposal seeks to change state law to allow the closest well to be 1,320 feet -- a quarter-mile -- from the residence or other place. Current state law allows for 350 feet.
The rule change proposal also requires any operator who experiences a spill beyond its well pad to pay a fine, although that amount isn't specified in the proposed rules.
Along with the resource council and policy center, at least 11 other groups or private citizens signed the petition, including the Clark Resource Council, Pavillion Area Concerned Citizens, Cheyenne Area Landowners Coalition, Laramie County Association of Surface Owners and the Pinedale-area Citizens United for Responsible Energy Development.
Kristi Mogen, a Douglas resident who lives near several flares and the site of an April 2012 Chesapeake Energy well blowout, first announced plans to petition for changes in December. Her name is also among those who signed Monday's petition.
"Our property values have been impacted," she said in a prepared release. "These proposed rules are reasonable and it is time for the state of Wyoming to step up to the plate and protect the health, safety and property values of people living near oil-and-gas development."