Norman city staff confirmed Monday that oil and gas drilling operations must follow distance requirements based on existing city code. Those code provisions deal primarily with homes and water wells.

The city is currently examining its code regarding the location of oil and gas wells and whether to implement setbacks that will protect the watershed and surface water sources in Norman, in particular Lake Thunderbird and its tributaries.

“The state doesn’t have any setback requirements at all,” said Matt Skinner, Oklahoma Corporation Commission spokesman. “We have very strict requirements for well integrity and how and where you are allowed to drill based on underground water. The whole idea is to protect water.”

Surface water protection is required through controlling possible spills.

“We require berms and dikes to keep any spills contained within the well area,” Skinner said. “Those requirements can change, depending on what you’re protecting, but all well sites have to be bermed. Local municipalities may have their own requirements, as well.”

Setbacks are often established by local municipalities, he said.

Questions arose when an oil and gas well site was established on Franklin Road not far from the Moore Norman Technology Center. Little River, a tributary that feeds into Lake Thunderbird, runs through the 10.3 acres owned by Finley Resources.

Hydraulic fracturing at the site was completed recently. If the well is found to be commercially viable, production could begin soon.

Known as Little River No. 1-12H, the oil well site has spurred local debate on creating setbacks to protect surface water.

City ordinances outline basic requirements — including notification of nearby property owners, distance from homes, churches and schools, and distance from fresh water wells.

If someone’s property line lies within 300 feet of the outer perimeter of the well, the city requires that those property owners be notified before an oil and gas well is drilled.

The City Code of Ordinances, which is available online at the city’s website, establishes city regulations for oil and gas operations within city limits. Chapter 13 — Licenses and Occupations; Article 15 — Oil, Gas and Mineral Production, contain many of those requirements.

According to Section 13-1501 (b-11), qualifications for drilling include “copy of receipts reflecting notice, by certified mail, to all property owners within 300 feet of the exterior of the entire well site (including all accessory equipment), notifying them of applicant's intention to drill a well.”

While notification relates to the distance from the outer boundaries of the well and accessory equipment to the property line, the setback of oil and gas wells must be at least 600 feet from homes, unless the homeowner waives that requirement.

According to the city code, Section 13-1509, B and C, “No steam, gasoline, natural gas, diesel or other internal combustion engine of any kind shall be operated in conjunction with the drilling and/or operation of an oil or gas well within 600 feet of any dwelling or business structure unless waived by the landowner.

“No oil, gas or disposal well shall be drilled, operated or maintained, nor shall any operation in connection therewith be carried on or conducted within 600 feet of any church or school, unless waived by the landowner or within 300 feet of any producing freshwater well.”

City staff said the Little River well is in compliance with local ordinances.

The Oklahoma Corporation Commission focuses on containment through well casings to protect underground water and through other measures to protect surface water and farmland.

“We have had pollution from spills on a site, off a site if something isn’t stored properly and gets knocked over — it’s rare but it can happen — and during transportation,” Skinner said. “A lot of our pollution is historical and that’s where we have old mud-plugged wells, and they throw their plugs and they purge. Most of that is in eastern Oklahoma, and we don’t allow mud plugs anymore.”

Some of those wells are more than 100 years old.

“We haven’t allowed that in a long time,” Skinner said. “The initial modern plugging rules came along in the 1950s.”

Oklahoma does have high salt concentrations in the water brought up along with hydrocarbons. Saltwater can be hazardous to local plant life and to drinking water sources. Saltwater spills are not uncommon.

“When you produce oil and natural gas in Oklahoma, you’re going to get a lot of saltwater with it,” Skinner said. “That’s the whole reason of the berms, to hold the saltwater in.”

If there is a spill, the soil has be replaced and remediated.

“Most of them (saltwater spills) are very small areas, but that’s the basis of our number one response issue,” Skinner said. “It’s pretty rare that we have a large-scale salt spill.”

Joy Hampton



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