Drilling setback rule may change

Legislator aims to ensure rigs are far from schools

A newly introduced bill in the state Legislature would change Colorado’s 1,000-foot minimum setback requirement between schools and oil and gas facilities so that it applies to a school’s property boundary rather than the building itself.

The bill’s sponsor and supporters say it’s a minor revision that would better protect children from impacts of oil and gas development.

State Rep. Mike Foote, a Democrat from Boulder County, said a number of instances of oil and gas operations near schools in the state led him to introduce the bill.

“It’s just way too close. Oil and gas drilling is a heavy industrial activity. It can be dangerous and I just don’t think it should be that close to where kids could be playing,” he said.

Leslie Robinson, with the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance, became concerned about the issue last year when Ursa Resources proposed drilling within 1,000 feet of Grand Valley High School in Parachute.

Ursa since has backed off that proposal, at least for now. But should it pursue it, the company would have to go before the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission in a hearing to seek a waiver from the setback requirement even under the existing rules because it sought to drill within 1,000 feet of the school itself.

Robinson said companies should be willing to move operations a bit farther away for the sake of students anywhere on the school property.

“We just feel that the kids playing out in the playground should be 1,000 feet away from oil and gas development, not just their school building,” she said.

The measure’s backers said what they’re calling a clarification to existing rules would ensure an adequate distance from athletic fields and modular classrooms to protect children.

Foote said the bill’s chances depend on how it fares in the state Senate. Republicans are in the majority there, and Foote said it won’t pass unless it’s able to win support from the oil and gas industry.

While Foote was under the understanding Wednesday that the Colorado Oil and Gas Association already opposes the measure, that group says it hasn’t yet taken a position.

Its president and chief executive officer, Dan Haley, said in a prepared statement, “We’re looking at the bill but it’s important to remember that it was only four years ago that a COGCC rulemaking more than tripled the distance for operations near high-occupancy buildings to 1,000 feet. Then, in 2015, the governor’s oil and gas task force debated the issue at length and found further setback increases to be unnecessary. Moreover, the state health department recently verified that Colorado oil and gas operations are well within healthy limits.

“If we are once again embarking on this conversation, it is important to keep the history, the context, and the scientific analysis in mind.”


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