Colorado Oil and Gas Commission Stands by 2000-Foot Setback Rule in Kerr-McGee Decision
The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) today voted 4-1 to reject a plan from Kerr-McGee — a subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum — for a 38-acre project that would fall within 2,000 feet of roughly 90 homes in the towns of Firestone and Frederick. The decision applies the commission’s 2000-foot setback rule, which was adopted by Colorado in 2020 to help better protect homes and schools from oil and gas development.
The setback rule requires that drilling generally stay at least 2000 feet from homes. In today’s decision, the Commission declined to apply an exception to the rule that allows closer development if the project includes protections “substantially equivalent” to the setback. As the Commission recognized, Kerr-McGee provided no analysis demonstrating that its preferred mitigation measures compare to the benefits from moving its operations farther away from residents’ homes. Further, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment expressed concerns about approving development close to so many homes.
Kerr-McGee's proposal involved drilling at two locations. Kerr-McGee proposed to drill 26 horizontal wells on its McGavin pad, which would have covered an area larger than 19 football fields (25.63 acres). The McGavin pad would have been located only 763 feet away from the closest home, 157 feet from a wetland, and 218 feet from a floodplain. The second pad — Columbine — would have had seven horizontal wells covering an area the size of almost 10 football fields (12.64 acres). It would have been located 1,089 feet from the nearest home and within 2,000 feet of seven homes.
Occidental was found liable for a 2017 home explosion in Firestone, which killed two people. The company was required to pay a $18.25 million fine.
“The oil and gas commission made the right decision to protect the people of Firestone and Frederick over corporate interests today,” said Michael Freeman, senior attorney for Earthjustice’s Rocky Mountain office. “Kerr-McGee’s request was flatly inconsistent with the commission’s 2000-foot setback. That regulation was established to prevent exactly this type of harmful fossil fuel development, and today the commission fulfilled its duty.”
“The commission’s decision today was right,” said Andrew Forkes-Gudmundson, deputy director of the League of Oil and Gas Impacted Coloradans. “SB19-181 was a commitment to all Coloradans that our health, safety, and welfare; wildlife; and the environment are more important than corporate profits. Kerr-McGee’s application was an affront to all the work that went into passing that bill and adopting the new setback rules. It was neighborhood drilling at its worst, and I’m glad the Commission upheld its promise to protect people over profits, and denied this dangerous application.”
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