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Colorado Legislative Proposal Seeks Increased Drilling Distance From Schools

Colorado's oil/gas industry is pushing back against a proposal in the state legislature (HB 1256) seeking to expand current setback requirements beyond 1,000 feet for oil/natural gas drilling from schools.

The proposal by state House Rep. Mike Foote would require that the setback be measured from school property lines, rather than school buildings as currently required undersetback requirements that were established four years ago.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA) opposes the measure, noting that the state's setback requirements were more than tripled when they were revised in 2013. "That was done after an exhaustive stakeholder process," said COGA CEO Dan Haley.

Currently, Colorado's requirements call for all oil/gas drilling to be at least 1,000 feet from schools and child care facilities. In pushing his bill at a state House Health, Insurance and Environment Committee hearing, Foote used photos of a high school in Greeley, CO, in which oil/gas wells are within a few hundred feet of the school's football stadium, even though they are 1,000 feet from the school building.

The state lawmaker was quoted by local news media that "it doesn't make sense to put something that can explode a couple of hundred feet from a playground." HB 1256 barely passed out of committee on a 6-5 vote despite COGA's vow to continue opposing the measure.

Haley noted that two years ago a state task force convened by Gov. John Hickenlooper made recommendations on oil/gas activity and local requirements and decided no action on setbacks was necessary. "What's changed since then?" Haley asked.

COGA cited a recent report from the state health department that concluded oil/gas operations at the 1,000-foot distance are within healthy limits.

Much of the legislative testimony last Thursday underscored "why these types of complicated matters are best left to the state Oil and Gas Conservation Commission," Haley said. "This process, with a tight timeline and no stakeholder engagement, doesn't allow ample time for a thorough economic impact analysis on a bill with broad boundary concerns."

"[HB 1256] clarifies that the minimum 1,000-foot distance from which newly permitted oil and gas production facilities and wells must be located from any school applies to the school property line and not the school building," a spokesperson for Foote said. "The bill further clarifies that it does not apply if a school commences operations near oil and gas facilities or wells that are already actively in use or permitted."

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