Oil, gas commission promises response to noise complaints
February 23, 2012
At a glance
Colorado oil well facts
■ Thom Kerr, interim director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, told an audience Tuesday in Steamboat Springs that Colorado produces 88,577 barrels of oil per day compared with the 5.5 million produced daily in the United States.
■ There are 43 active wells in Routt County, and 27 are producing wells as of this month. There are 292 wells in Routt County that have been plugged.
■ In 2011, Kerr’s agency issued permits for 10 wells here. One was drilled. There is one permit pending.
Steamboat Springs — When it comes to future noise issues related to oil and gas exploration in rural Routt County, officials with the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission said this week that they will look for individual solutions to each circumstance, and promised a swift response to resident complaints.
"Noise rules are some of the toughest rules we have when it comes to complaints," said Thom Kerr, the interim director of the Oil and Gas Commission, during a public hearing Tuesday in Steamboat Springs. Drilling "rigs are big equipment. They make noise for a limited time, and then they go away. Beyond that, we need to deal with" noise issues.
County Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak asked Kerr whether his agency applies noise standards appropriate for light industrial zoning at oil and gas rigs no matter where they are located.
Kerr responded that the commission does not write specific noise limitations for each drilling permit it issues but works to mitigate any issues that cause complaints from neighboring property owners.
"The strategy, then, is let's see how it works? If we don't get complaints, it's OK, but if we do, then we do something?" Commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush asked.
Kerr replied that noise issues at a given well pad are apt to change throughout time depending on the techniques that are most effective for the operator.
"Every well is different," Kerr said. "The life of the operation is dynamic. The equipment that moves in there is going to be dynamic."
Mitsch Bush pointed out to Kerr that in parts of rural Routt County, where population density is very low, people are accustomed to correspondingly low background noise levels.
"The ambient noise level in rural Routt, particularly where the Niobrara (Shale) is, is low," she said. "Even in daytime, it's a relatively low level of noise."
Stahoviak asked Kerr whether Routt County Planner Chris Brookshire could relay complaints to his office.
"Absolutely," he replied. "The response time should be 24 to 48 hours."
Oil and Gas Commission Northwest Region Field Inspector Kris Neidel, who monitors conditions at well sites in neighboring Jackson and Moffat counties as well as in Routt, said he is prepared to measure noise levels at property lines adjacent to well sites and to urge operators to find ways to diminish the noise generated by their equipment.
"Noise is particularly difficult," Neidel said. "But we'll come out at one in the morning and sit out there to document the noise (at the same time as the complaint) and try to re-create what's out there."
Not infrequently, Neidel said, a noise issue that an operator isn't aware of can be resolved simply by moving the offending machinery.
"If there's a compressor located on top of a hill, they may try to move it or build something to screen it," Neidel said.
To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com