250 feet?!

City Council will vote tonight for a new gas well drilling and production ordinance. Of course it is a complex document with many inter-related, moving parts. But there is one number that stands out.

250 feet

That’s the distance they are considering for reverse setbacks in residential areas — when people move into homes or apartments next to existing gas well sites.

The red-line version of the ordinance shows that they have cut this in half from the 500 feet recommended by staff.

I don’t think this is actually a matter of being commercially reasonable for the gas industry via HB 40. I think this is driven by a desire to be commercially reasonable for land developers.

Given the propensity of frack sites to catch on fire, blowout, and explode – not to mention emit long-term emissions – I wouldn’t vote for a 250 foot setback. I think it would be irresponsible to put people that close to danger.

Now, I know, the response is: disclosure and freedom of choice. If people want to move in next to a gas well and they know the risks, then it would be paternalistic to prevent them from doing that.

But would they really know the risks? That’s the big question. I look at the disclosure requirements proposed here and I seriously doubt it. Just think about renters…or folks moving into an assisted living facility. I don’t see any provision requiring that they be informed. And the disclosure rules that are in the proposed ordinance only indicate where gas wells are, not what that means in terms of risks.

I don’t think I’ll be able to speak tonight, but if I could I would ask for an increase in the reverse setback distance.

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