DENVER – It wasn’t so long ago that Coloradans voted against a bid to block oil and gas development near homes. The state – one of the nation’s top crude-producing regions – is cracking down anyway.
Companies planning to drill wells within 610 m of a home should now expect additional scrutiny from Colorado’s energy regulator, which will only approve those wells if they can be operated in a way that won’t adversely affect health.
The shift in policy comes after a study commissioned by the state’s health department found heightened risk of benzene exposure within 2 000 ft (610 m) of drill sites. Risk was highest during the flowback stage of the fracking process, when the mix of water and chemicals used to create fractures in the shale rock returns to the surface, according to the study.
“The study indicates the potential for short-term health impacts” within the range of 2 000 ft, said Jeff Robbins, the acting director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. He said that 39 pending applications will be affected.
Voters in November rejected a ballot initiative that sought to impose a 2 500-ft buffer zone between drill sites and homes. Since then, the state has passed a sweeping overhaul of its oil and gas laws, giving local governments more power to regulate drilling.