Carbon County's planning board met Tuesday and, while the agenda was relatively short, members discussed one item that could be important to local residents, particularly people living in outlying areas where gas well sites are being constructed.
The agenda item involved he discussion and possible approval of a conditional use permit for three wells in the Circle K Ranch area for Conoco/Phillips Petroleum.
Legal counsel, Nick Sampinos and Jean Semborski of Phillips presented the matter to the county planning panel.
"There are already other wells in the area and, of course, the company is willing to put buildings over these new ones to keep the sound down," indicated Sampinos. "In terms of proximity to homes, the wells are 1328 feet, 750 feet and 730 feet respectively."
"The company is willing to put up the people who live nearby in a local motel during the drilling of the wells if the noise of that operation is too great," added the legal representative.
Sampinos pointed out that 73 mineral rights owners in the area in question will benefit from the drilling of the wells.
"And access is largely provided by existing well field roads and ones the company will construct. There is only one place where the company must cross a county road," explained the attorney.
The planning board members discussed the usual conditions that the company must adhere to, including dust control, repairing any county roads that might be damaged, etc.
The county has always worked with the rule that the noise level should not measure more than 55 decibels at 1,800 feet away from the well. That is the reason gas companies have constructed buildings over some pumps at sites close to Westwood and other places.
But the planning board questioned whether the matter should be re-examined.
"I think we need to re-evaluate the noise levels and distance on this," said board member Lynna Topolovec. "I don't like the standard we have been using. In the past, the wells were well away from residences most of the time. But now with more and more of them coming closer to homes, I think we need to use more common sense."
Board chairman Richard Tatton pointed out that, on the table in the middle of the members, was a decibel monitor that the director of planning Dave Levanger had supplied.
Levanger realized the issue might come up at the meeting and there had been prior questions raised regarding what a decibel reading meant.
"I have been watching the levels in the room and our voices have been running about 40 to 45 decibels," he said.
Decibel or dB is used to compare sound intensities. For instance, according to the QPB Encyclopedia of Science, the threshold of hearing is 0 dB, while quiet conversation ranges between 20 and 50 dB.
In the more extreme end, the sound of heavy traffic on a street ranges in the 90 dB range and a jet aircraft taking off registers 110 to 140 when it takes off.
All the readings are within a few feet of the origin of the sound.
Topolovec cited a study conducted by the United States Environmental Protection Agency showing how the various decibel levels affect sleep and what percentage of time certain levels disturb the sleep of individuals.
"I think we just need to be aware of where these levels are at in comparison to our standards and what noise the wells are producing," stated Topolovec. "We have rules for other industries and I don't see that these wells are any different than they are."
But several people in attendance at the county planning board meeting disputed the estimate that the noise from the wells would come close to the 55 decibels at 1,800 feet.
In fact, it was pointed out that the existing rule was enacted based on the compressor station built near Gordon Creek. The compressor station emits significantly more noise than a well.
Readings documented on a well near Hiawatha Springs showed the noise level was 76.6 decibels at the site, explained Levanger. The unit that was not covered with a building.
A reading taken 700 to 900 feet away from the well head near Hiawatha Springs registered at 40 decibels or about the level of the ambient noise in the area.
The ambient level in question included the background noise in the area, including the wind, Utah Highway 10 traffic and sounds from high flying aircraft, etc.
Carbon Commissioner Mike Milovich, who represents county government on the planning board, suggested the possibility that the company could insulate the buildings with sound muffling material if a problem should arise.
One of the representatives in the audience from Phillips said the suggestion could be an option.
However, Sampinos indicated that was not pertinent to what is presently in place.
"The county already has an ordinance and that is what should be followed," stated the attorney.
But Topolovec said the county ordinance on other industries was basically no noise at all and reconsidering the gase well situation would not be unreasonable.
Following the discussion, a motion was made to grant the permits, with an addendum specifying that Phillips would insulate the buildings covering the well heads if noise became a problem for residents.
Before a final vote could be taken on the motion, local resident Jim Karpowitz asked to be heard by the county planning panel.
"With these approved, there will be seven wells surrounding that area," noted Karpowitz. "The noise levels are getting louder. In fact, during the summer at night, we have to get up and close the windows because we can't sleep. But I am just as concerned that this is a major change in the direction of the county and its residential areas. Is this what we want, subdivisions surrounded by gas wells?"
Milovich indicated that Karpowitz' comment was the first time he had heard the complaint about noise in the area, while Topolovec pointed out that there needed to be a way to fix the problem.
However, Phillips did not install the drilling units and does not operate many of the gas wells in question.
"He entitled to his input," pointed out Sampinos, referring to Karpowitz' statements. "But this is a different issue. The issue at hand are these wells, which we stated we would take care of should there be a noise problem."
The planning board members voted to send the conditional use permit to the county commission for approval, contingent upon the addition of several addendums, including an item concerning mitigating the noise from the units.
"When the county commission meets to approve these permits, I and probably some other people will be there to talk about the situation," stated Karpowitz.