An increased setback between drilling and homes doesn’t go far enough to satisfy homeowners and landowners living next to oil and gas operations.
In the case of coal-bed methane, Wyoming officials are left with a large number of small wells at risk of being orphaned. Whereas Wyoming typically deals with about 100 orphaned wells in a typical year, there are now 1,200 orphaned wells.
Dozens of landowners are voluntarily forgoing crop irrigation to divert their appropriated water to drilling companies instead. Rather than yield a few hundred dollars per acre-foot of water to grow and harvest hay, an irrigator may earn a few thousand dollars on that same acre-foot of water by selling it to drillers in the Niobrara oil play. But what happens if the oil industry is successful in tapping the Niobrara? Could crop irrigators and industry alike become dependent on this business relationship over five or 10 years of drilling, shifting the declining resource of water away from agriculture to an industrial use?