County: Tone down drilling noise proposal |

County: Tone down drilling noise proposal

Garfield County commissioners will ask state regulators to alter proposed changes in noise limits related to gas drilling.

Commissioners agreed Monday to send a letter to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission asking it to apply residential-level noise limits to all areas where people live, including agricultural areas.

These limits would be 55 decibels during the day, and 50 decibels at night.

A currently proposed change to COGCC rules would treat agricultural and light industrial areas the same, allowing noise levels of 70 decibels during the day and 65 at night.

For comparison, 50-55 dB is about the noise produced by a coffee percolator or refrigerator motor or in a normal office environment, while 70 dB is the noise produced by freeway traffic, a power lawnmower or a garbage disposal.

The oil and gas commission is scheduled to consider the proposal at its meeting next Monday in Denver.

County commissioners and the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance object to treating agricultural and light industrial areas the same, saying rural residents would have to deal with higher noise levels allowed in light industrial areas.

“People who buy a dream home in an area don’t consider that as light industrial,” said Commissioner Tresi Houpt.

Zoning usurped?

Nancy Jacobsen, a resident south of Silt, said that when she bought her property, it was with the understanding that it was zoned agricultural/rural residential.

“Somehow the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has usurped that zoning and we have become light industrial,” she said.

Houpt said treating agriculture and light industrial the same might make more sense in areas where farms and ranches are big. But in Garfield County many farms and ranches are much smaller.

County Attorney Don DeFord said the proposed state noise rules could affect properties that have been approved for residential development but not developed. Applying a light-industrial noise standard to them could serve as a deterrent to their development, he said.

Officials for the town of Silt expressed similar concerns. Infrastructure being put in today may not be used for a decade, and the investment could be lost if development is hindered later by noise from compressors or other gas operations.

Treat all residential areas the same

Commissioners are urging the state to treat all existing and undeveloped agricultural/rural residential areas the same as residential areas in its proposals.

They first approved sending a letter that would request residential treatment for rural developments with an average lot size of 50 acres or less, or for parcels of 50 acres or less split off from larger properties.

However, Houpt later suggested removing the 50-acre reference, arguing that no residents should be subject to light industrial noise standards.

Commissioners Larry McCown and John Martin disagreed. McCown said large ranches with no residences don’t need stricter noise limits.

But Houpt said the county’s agricultural/rural residential zoning “should still be recognized as the zoning it is,” despite industrial-scale gas drilling taking place in those areas.

McCown voted with Houpt to send a letter containing her modifications, while Martin voted against the change. However, McCown said he doubts that COGCC will accept the modified proposal.

No change in impacts

Brian Macke, deputy director of the COGCC, continues to insist that the new noise limits would result in no change in impact on residents. No matter how surrounding property is classified, the residential noise standard would be enforced at a residence, he told commissioners Monday.

He said he isn’t hearing the same concerns elsewhere in the state about drilling noise that he is in Garfield County.

“They’re just not as in tune with the environment as we are,” Martin said with a smile.

“I think you’re probably right,” said Macke.

Houpt said the noise concerns are yet another reflection of the growing impacts of drilling in the county.

Jacobsen said noise is yet one more impact for homeowners affected by drilling. In the canyon area she lives in south of Silt, the sounds of oil and gas operations are amplified, she said.

“That noise just resonates in there. It’s just like an amphitheater,” she said.

Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext. 516

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