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Colorado Considers Longer Drilling Setbacks for Schools

After Colorado voters rejected a ballot measure last month that would have set a half-mile setback for oil and gas drilling in populated areas, state regulators are considering increasing setbacks for schools and related property.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has set hearings for Dec. 17-18 to consider a draft school rule that would keep the setback at 1,000 feet, but measured from property lines, not from buildings.

They will also consider a requirement to give notice if drill sites are within a quarter-mile of property lines. The requirement is currently 1,000 feet for schools and 500 feet for other types of structures.

The proposed school setback would also apply to adjacent properties also owned by school districts.

Last month, nearly 57% of Colorado voters rejected Prop 112, which would have increased well site setbacks from 500 feet to 2,500 feet for residences, workplaces, and "vulnerable areas" such as playgrounds and public water sources.

The draft rule is "a positive development" for drillers, "as the new rule increases certainty around [the state] regulatory environment,” said analysts at Washington, DC-based Height Securities LLC.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA) filed a written statement with the commission late last month, saying it was in "general agreement" with the proposed changes.

"We held countless meetings and conversations over the past months, and we are happy to align with the participating Colorado school districts in this rulemaking," said COGA spokesman Scott Prestidge. "It shows what can be achieved when stakeholders take the time to sit down and have tough conversations."

In its current form, the proposed rule would set new definitions for "school," "school facility," "school governing board," and "future school facility," and each would require the new, longer setback.

The rule would cover both public and private schools, playgrounds or other associated properties, including school board facilities. Sites designated for future school construction would also be covered by the proposed setback requirement.

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