House OKs initial school drilling rule

It seems perfectly reasonable to Lafayette Democratic Rep. Mike Foote that, when it comes to public schools, the state’s setback rules for oil and gas drilling wells begin not at the buildings on campus, but the campus itself.

But to GOP lawmakers in the Colorado House, it’s just one more restriction on an industry that has done well for the state.

So while the Democratic-controlled House easily gave HB1256 a preliminary thumbs-up on Tuesday, its fate in the Senate where the Republicans have the majority is less certain.

“It’s our responsibility as a Legislature to address obvious problems in a rule,” Foote said on the House floor. “We do it all the time, and we should do it with this as well.”

Republican lawmakers, however, said they are tired of seeing these continued “attacks” on oil and gas drillers, saying that many schools wouldn’t even exist if it wasn’t for the jobs and tax revenues that the industry provides.

“When I see this, I see economic activity and taxes that are paid by good, hard-working people in the oil and gas industry,” said Rep. Larry Liston, R-Colorado Springs. “I would venture to say that (schools) to a large degree probably are courtesy of the oil and gas industry, which has brought in jobs and economic activity.”

Republicans repeatedly criticized Democrats for supporting the bill and others like it,  contending they either want to see all fossil fuel development end outright, or just want to piecemeal it to death by attacking parts of it.

Rep. Yeulin Willett, R-Grand Junction, said one of the premises of the bill is a false one. That premise is based on health dangers to children, something that’s not been supported by recent research.

Pointing to a study released just last month by the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment, Willett said there is no evidence that drilling activities have led to any health problems for students or anyone else.

“As a fan of the industry, I expected some pretty good news (from the study), but I didn’t expect the news to be as good as it actually was,” Willett said. “They concluded that there is such little health risk that they really need do nothing. We’re so safe right now, we don’t need to do anything.”

Democrats, however, said that’s not the only issue.

“The main issue is that right now under our current rules, the industry can put something that can explode just a couple hundred feet away from a playground, and that’s not right,” Foote said. “Accidents can happen, and they do happen.”

The bill is being closely watched by Battlement Mesa residents, who are dealing with a request by Ursa Resources for a well pad as close as 600 feet from Grand Valley High School in Parachute.

“Operators can still access their minerals and parents can feel a bit more comfortable knowing that their kids have a full 1,000-foot buffer,” said Leslie Robinson, chairwoman of the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance.

The bill requires a final House vote before it can head to the Senate for more debate.


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