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Setback for oil and gas
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Setback change for new drilling wells passes first test in Colorado House

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Rep. Mike Foote showed the House Health, Insurance and Environment Committee a video simulation of how close drilling happens to school playgrounds and athletic fields and still meet the letter of the Colorado’s setback law.

After almost seven hours of testimony, the House Health, Insurance and Environment Committee passed House Bill 1256 to apply a setback of at least 1,000 feet from the campus property line, not the front door. It passed on a party-line vote.

A campus property line — near playgrounds and athletic fields — can be within a few feet of drills, tanks and vents, Foote pointed out.

“Accidents happen with these, and it just doesn’t make any sense to put something that can explode a couple hundred feet away from a playground,” said Foote, a Democrat from Lafayette.

Foote acknowledged the issue had been looked in 2013, which is where the 1,000-foot state setback rule came from, which he called the “passing the buck defense.”

“Apparently the opponents think we as legislators should decide that, ‘Well, since it’s been discussed before, we shouldn’t run any bills on it,'” Foote told the committee.

Marilyn Hughes of Longmont noted that liquor stores and marijuana dispensaries observe a 1,000-foot buffer from school boundaries, not the school entrance.

“So far I have not heard of an edible exploding,” she said.

The industry said it’s done enough to comply with rules to protect the public and environment.

“We believe the current setback established just four years ago by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, with extensive stakeholder involvement, is working well, and avoids some of the pitfalls that this bill will create,” said Tracee Bentley, executive director of the Colorado Petroleum Council.

She said the bill would eliminate the commission’s ability to grant variances, which places a high burden of necessity on the industry and tough mitigation requirements.

“Putting absolute numbers in statute is a poor way to regulate any industry,” said Angie Binder, executive director of the Colorado Petroleum Association. “It is not nimble or conducive to real-world practical needs for periodic changes.”

Bentley noted that in Weld County — home to 90 percent of the state’s oil production and 35 percent of its natural gas development — there are 35 school campuses that are 10 acres or larger and 17 that are more than 20 acres.

If wells get pushed farther away from campuses, they could get pushed closer to neighborhoods and open spaces, Bentley said.

The industry presented studies that indicate rates of release from the wells are below a level to cause concern about safety to public health.

Rep. Phil Covarrubias, R-Brighton, defended the industry against what he saw as the latest political assault.

“I don’t like it when anyone uses children for political gain,” he said of the school proximity issues.

That ticked off Rep. Daneya Esgar, D-Pueblo.

“If anyone knows Rep. Foote knows he would not use children for politics,” she said. “This is about policy and protecting kids at the end of the day.”

 

Leslie Robinson of the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance asked how business or politicians could lose by assuring a distance the length of a city block for children’s health.

‘Why do we have to put children at risk for a privately owned company’s bottom line?” she said.

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