September 1, 2017
To find the biggest fault line in the clash of homes and oilfields in Colorado, listen for the rumbles. “Noise is continuous,” one resident in La Plata County complained to state oil and gas regulators earlier this year, according to an August 20, 2017 Denver Post report.
Over the past eight years, as houses and well pads inched closer across the state, complaints to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) boomed, according to a Denver Post analysis of complaint data. In 2010, state regulators fielded 240 complaints. By 2013, that number had risen only to 252. But last year, 419 complaints were filed with the state. Through July of 2017, the tally is already higher – 704 complaints.
The biggest reason for the jump in complaints is not concern about water safety or fear over explosions. It’s noise. More than one noise complaint per day on average has been filed this year. “It’s intrusive; it really is,” said Matt Lepore, the director of the COGCC, which is in charge of regulating oil and gas production in the state. “You feel like your house is being violated in some kind of way.”
When talking about industrial noise, experts often divide sounds into two groups. There are the higher-frequency sounds that people generally associate with noise – things such as clanging or banging. This is sometimes referred to as “A-scale” noise. Then there is “C-scale” noise, the lower base rumblings of motors, fans and shakers.
The commission’s rules set baseline noise levels that operations aren’t supposed to exceed. But they also provide exemptions for the nosiest activities, such as drilling, that allow for higher levels. And regulators have no ability to punish companies that repeatedly violate limits for the most pernicious kind of industrial noise – the low, base like rumblings that are felt as well as heard. The strongest action the rules allow the COGCC to take is ordering a company “to obtain a low frequency noise impact analysis by a qualified sound expert.”
When Cameron Radtke, an industrial hygienist who in 2014 was in graduate school at Colorado State University, set out that year to measure oil and gas noise in the state, he found that A-scale noise was generally well controlled. The large walls that surround many sites in northern Colorado do a good job of muffling sound, and the only measurements of A-scale noise he took that exceed baseline COGCC standards fell within the exemption.
“The major issue I found,” Radtke said, “is that they didn’t address low-level C-rated noise as well as they should have.
What this means to you
Experts divide industrial noise into two groups. Higher-frequency sounds that people associate with noise such as clanging or banging is referred to as “A-scale” noise. Lower base rumblings of motors, fans and shakers is “C-scale” noise. The major issue in Colorado appears to be low-level C-rated noise.