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Planning commission recommends new well noise and distance ordinance

Sun Advocate community editor

If the Carbon County Commission approves the planning commissions recommendation, a new written ordinance on how close a gas or oil well can be to a residence will become law in the county.

On Tuesday evening, after over two years of concern over the noise that gas well sites might cause nearby residents, the Carbon County Planning and Zoning Commission recommended that the Carbon County Commission pass an ordinance that will restrict the noise of wells and their distance from residences.

"For a number of years now we have had a gentleman agreement about this with gas development companies, but now we have it in writing," said County Commissioner Mike Milovich, who is the county commissions sitting member on planning and zoning. The concern began a few years ago when some residents of areas south of Price began to complain about the noise wells that were being drilled close to their homes were causing, particularly at certain times of the day and during certain weather conditions. Some residents said that they couldn't sleep during summer nights with their windows open because of the putt-putt-putt of horse head pump engines.

Over the last two years, staff members from the Department of Planning and Zoning have been using equipment to measure noise from various wells in places where the complaints come from. In addition, one of the exploration companies hired an outside consultant whose specialty is sound and noise to test to see if wells were actually causing problems.

In both cases the tests and conclusions were that when wells were at the distance the county had been requiring ( a little over 1300 feet) even unenclosed wells did not cause a problem. Yet the complaints continued.

Then this past fall a gas company proposed that some wells be put well within the 1300 foot limit of some houses in Kenilworth. Some residents didn't seem to mind, while others were concerned. The company maintained that they could put in wells that would not affect the quality of life in the town.

With that the planning commission started looking at it's policies and began to do some research. On Tuesday night that research and work came to fruition as they proposed the new ordinance concerning the distance wells can be from homes and their measured noise levels at the well head.

As the new ordinance was presented, commission member Lynna Topolovec was concerned about the wording of the new proposal.

"It concerns me that we are looking at it this way," she said. " What about looking at it from a non-nuisance manner, with noise being one of those nuisances?"

The commission discussed that, but some felt that just having a nuisance ordinance would open up the issue for many kinds of complaints, some not legitimate.

Topolovec then suggested that the numbers in the ordinance be more clear, because the way she saw it written (minimum distance from homes 660 feet and not over 55 decibels of noise) was not restrictive enough to protect residents.

"Let's change that to a 660 foot minimum, but that the 55 decibels limit has to be measured at the well head," she said.

The commission approved the new wording and the change will be presented to the county commission in the near future at a regular meeting.

The planning commission also approved zoning and conditional use permits for six wells in the Whitmore area west of the entrance to Nine Mile Canyon.

The request came from JW Operating and Larry Johnson acted as a spokesman for the company with the commission.

"The federal leases on this area will be expiring soon and the company would like to develop them so the rights aren't lost," said Johnson.

The commission had some questions for Johnson, but some of the strongest questions came from landowners around where the wells will be located and from some of those that own the land but have agreements with the company.

One of the hottest topics had to do with cattle guards. Apparently a number of the cattle guards in the area have either been damaged or filled up with dirt over the years and are either in poor condition or not functioning at all. Johnson agreed to check those out and repair or revamp them as needed.

There were also some questions about county roads in the area, but potential problems have been cleared with the county road shop.

When considering the conditional use permit the commission added a number of things to the permits to ensure the area and property owners in the area would be protected.

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