A vehicle passes the main Saddle Ridge development sign Thursday, Dec. 26, 2019 in east Cheyenne. A group of landowners is worried a proposed oil drilling project just east of the Saddle Ridge area could pose health risks for nearby residents. Nadav Soroker/Wyoming Tribune Eagle

CHEYENNE – A potential drilling project near Cheyenne city limits has drawn criticism from several landowners, who worry the development could pose health risks to themselves and their neighbors.

The plans to drill 10 to 15 oil wells just east of Cheyenne have been proposed by Samson Energy Company, which already has a strong presence in Laramie County.

The project’s drilling spacing units, which have been approved by the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, run from near Interstate 80 in the south to Iron Mountain Road in the north. Part of that zone falls within city limits, which has worried members of the Cheyenne Area Landowners Coalition.

The approved drilling areas cover roughly 12 square miles. Wayne Lax, vice president of the landowners coalition, said he has never seen a project gain approval in such a densely populated area.

“They’re going into an area of more than 1,000 homes,” Lax said. “The vast majority are probably in the five-acre range.”

Map of drilling spacing units for proposed Samson project

A map of four drilling spacing units that were approved by the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission for a Samson Energy Company project. Cheyenne Area Landowners Coalition/courtesy

While state rules require wells to be offset at least 500 feet from any “occupied structure,” Samson spokesman Steve Trujillo said the wells included in this project would be offset by at least 1,000 feet.

“That’s kind of our internal mandate, so we can be farther away from homes,” Trujillo said of the 1,000-foot buffer. “We’re not drilling right on top of people at all.”

Trujillo said as part of company practice, Samson holds outreach meetings for anyone who might be impacted by new energy developments.

“We’ve done them even when we’re not required,” Trujillo said. “In fact, only one has been required, per the regulations of the state.”

Trujillo noted the final drilling locations will not encompass most of the approved drilling spacing units.

“Your drilling location is not in that whole area,” he said. “It may not even be in the area. It’s sometimes outside of the area.”

State regulations require companies to notify all mineral owners within the drilling zone of a planned project, a far greater number than those who have to be notified after final drilling permits gain approval.

“When we do the application for the permit to drill, that kind of narrows it down and finds out exactly where we’re going to be drilling these wells at,” Trujillo said. “We’re not drilling in that entire drilling spacing unit. No company does that.”

Yet Lax argued the project’s environmental effects still adversely impact nearby residents. He noted an October report from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment that found people living within 2,000 feet of fracking sites could face an elevated risk of short-term health issues like nosebleeds, headaches, breathing trouble and dizziness.

“From the look of things, some people are going to be within 2,000 feet definitely ... and that is a huge risk of health and safety,” Lax said.

Trujillo said Samson, which has a long history of working with the commission and other state agencies, would never choose to drill in an area that would create safety concerns for residents.

“Our company, we’ve always tried to be transparent and open, not just there in Cheyenne and Laramie County, but anywhere we’ve operated around the United States, we’ve always tried to be a little bit different from other companies,” Trujillo said. “We have people that live in the same neighborhoods that these people do, so we understand their concerns.”

As it waits for permit approval from the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, Samson plans to hold an outreach meeting regarding the project sometime next month. If the permits are approved, Trujillo said the company would look to prepare for drilling sometime next summer.

Tom Coulter is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s state government reporter. He can be reached at tcoulter@wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3124. Follow him on Twitter at @tomcoulter_.

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