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Government, oil industry officials hold Q&A with county residents

CHEYENNE — Despite oil prices hovering around $50 a barrel, oil and gas production continues in Laramie County.

And rural residents continue to have concerns about the potential impacts of that work.

County officials, along with representatives from oil and gas companies, held an informal question-and-answer session earlier this week. They hoped to address some of these concerns and spark dialog between the various stakeholders.

“There is really a need for greater cooperation between the oil and gas developers and the (rural) residents,” said Alex Bowler, president of the Cheyenne Area Landowners Coalition.

County planner Karen Bryant said worries from residents who contact her office tend to fall four categories: water supply and quality; increased truck traffic on rural roadways; noise and light pollution; and safety.

The potential safety hazards posed by drilling dominated much of the conversation during the meeting Tuesday.

“There have been huge explosive events that have occurred in Colorado at some wells where people have had to be evacuated,” said Jill Morrison with the Powder River Basin Resource Council.

“We’ve had blowouts in (other parts of) Wyoming where people over a mile away have had to be evacuated.”

The council is a watchdog group that advocates responsible oil and gas development in the state.

While unrelated to oil drilling, a fuel tank explosion at Tri-State Oil Reclaimers west of Cheyenne killed an employee last October.

That incident drew emergency responders from three Laramie County fire districts, Cheyenne Fire and Rescue, Wyoming Air National Guard, F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Laramie County Sheriff’s Department and Wyoming Highway Patrol.

The long distances between fire stations and rural residences increase worries about fires and explosions at oil rig sites, some said.

There are “phenomenal volunteer fire districts throughout the county,” County Commissioner Troy Thompson said.

“Obviously, there are limitations to volunteer fire departments,” he said.

“But I would argue that we are very well prepared.”

Commissioner Buck Holmes is a former volunteer firefighter here. He said most fires at drill sites pose little threat to residents.

“Most of the wells are far enough away from residences that they don’t create a great amount of danger to a lot of people,” he said.

Holmes added that while oil fires, with their thick plumes of dark smoke, may look bad, they are typically easier to fight than house fires.

But, he allowed, “If you have a blowout and an explosion at a well, that’s a different deal. There is no way your local fire district can handle that.”

Chuck White lives about 15 miles east of Cheyenne. He suggested it would be beneficial for oil companies to help provide training for local firefighters. He noted those companies often have a wealth of experience combating chemical fires and explosions.

Dennis Ellis with Anadarko Petroleum said his company “would be happy to do any kind of training the county thinks it needs to be able safely protect its citizens.”

In the meantime, Bill McHenry, fire warden for the Laramie County Emergency Management Agency, offered some advice for residents who live near drill sites:

Because oil and gas fires tend to be fast-moving, he said, “the best thing a property owner can do is make sure they are cutting their grass down” to keep them from spreading quickly.

Bryant said EOG Resources, one of the county’s largest oil and gas producers, has expressed interest in working with the county to help improve safety protocols.

But EOG representatives were absent from the meeting, causing consternation from some in attendance.

An EOG spokesman reached after the meeting said the company plans to be at the next meeting hosted by the county. That is set for May 5.

This article was written by Lucas High from Wyoming Tribune-Eagle, Cheyenne and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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