On Friday, March 10, the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commissions (COGCC) approved 25 wells approximately 600 feet away from the Bella Romero Academy’s property line and its adjacent soccer fields, but 1,360 feet away from the school building in Weld County. A 22-well proposal near Grand Valley High School, in Garfield County would be less than 300 feet from the school property.
According to Colorado oil & gas regulations the minimum mandatory distance for new oil and gas facilities is 1,000 feet from any “high-occupancy building,” including schools and childcare centers. The distance is currently measured from the building and not the property line, which puts playgrounds, sports fields, and modular classrooms within the setback zone.
This week Rep. Mike Foote (D-Lafayette) introduced legislation, HB 1256 which specifies the 1,000-foot distance must be measured from “the nearest property line of the land used for school purposes to the nearest portion of the oil and gas facility or well.” The bill would only apply to new oil & gas facilities, and not existing operations.
- Protect areas where children play. Measuring from the school boundary would mean that playgrounds, athletic fields, outdoor lunch areas, modular classrooms, and other areas used on a daily basis by school children are now included in the law.
- Increase consistency. This bill treats the oil and gas industry like other industries engaged in activities requiring setbacks. Denver, Aurora, and Pueblo all have 1,000-foot mandatory perimeters from the property line of schools with regard to selling, growing, transferring or distributing marijuana. Similarly, the federal “drug-free school” statute creates a zone within 1,000 feet of the school’s property line.
- Better protection from pollutants from oil and gas facilities that are harmful to the health of children. Oil and natural gas facilities release emissions containing particulate matter, nitrogen oxide, and volatile organic compounds, such as benzene and toluene that negatively impact human health, and have been shown to disproportionately impact children. These emissions are considered dangerous enough that Colorado has a law that imposes idling limitations for diesel vehicles, including school buses.
- Affords more protection from accidents. The effects of an oil and gas accident are not restricted to 1,000 feet. For example, a recent well blowout in Hudson, Colorado sprayed a mist of oil, gas, and drilling waste water over an area 2,000 feet long by 1,000 feet wide. Additionally, in Frederick, Colorado, an oil storage tank fire 1,800 feet from Legacy Elementary School required students and teachers to shelter in place.
- Helps minimize the negative impacts of drilling. The majority of residential complaints about noise, odor, and dust come from within 1,000 feet of an oil or natural gas facility.
Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA) President Dan Haley said in an email 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. Nothing has changed since then to merit a new debate. 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.”
Foote responded to Haley saying: “Just six weeks ago a well near Hudson blew out of control for two hours, spewing 28,000 gallons of oil, gas and drilling waste in an area 2,000 feet long and 1,000 feet wide. In 2016, 112 spills occurred within 1,000 feet of an occupied structure. Does anyone really think we should have these dangerous heavy industrial operations just 1,000 feet away from a school or child care center?”
If approved by the Legislature, Foote said his bill “would mean no more oil rigs just a couple of hundred feet from playgrounds and athletic fields.”
The bill was referred to the House Health, Insurance and Environment Committee and has been scheduled for a hearing on March 23, (1:30 p.m., Hearing Room 271, State Capitol, 200 E. Colfax Ave., Denver).
Foote has asked his Facebook followers who may back his proposal to contact members of that committee and join him for that panel’s hearing, saying: “Oil and gas drilling is a dangerous and heavy industrial activity. You can tell the committee that kids should not be so close to oil and gas drilling.”