Colorado regulatory panel changes oil and gas school setback requirement |

Colorado regulatory panel changes oil and gas school setback requirement

Alex Zorn

In this 2016 file photo, a drilling rig is situated about 1,100 feet from the Battlement Mesa Middle School. Newly approved state rules require that oil and gas operations be at least 1,000 feet from a school's outdoor facilities, not just buildings.
Post Independent file photo

Colorado’s Oil and Gas Conservation Commission on Tuesday addressed concerns many throughout the state had regarding the proximity between oil and gas operations and schools, as school setback requirements were updated following a hearing in Denver.

As oil and gas setback requirements continue to shape the conversation at the close of 2018, the COGCC unanimously approved to change the requirement for new oil and gas developments to be 1,000 feet from the boundary of the school’s outdoor facilities, rather than just the school building.

Essentially, the rule change ensures that outdoor facilities frequently used by students, such as playgrounds, ballfields and other facilities near the school building are protected by the 1,000 foot boundary.

“Closing this loophole is a much-needed change, and we’re glad to see increased protections for the health and safety of children across Colorado from dirty and industrial fossil fuel development,” Conservation Colorado’s Sophia Mayott-Guerrero said in a statement after the hearing.

“But, it is important to note that this is just one small step forward; we look forward to working with Governor-elect Polis and the legislature to ensure that health and safety of all Coloradans is prioritized when it comes to oil and gas development.”

While the rule change addresses concerns from many environmental advocates across the state, it received a lot of support from members of the oil and gas industry throughout the hearing, as well, including new West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Executive Director Eric Carlson, who spoke in favor of the setback clarification.

“Today’s rulemaking is a direct result of good-faith compromise and collaboration, and we appreciate the partnership that helped move this effort forward,” Colorado Petroleum Council Executive Director Tracee Bentley said. “The natural gas and oil industry likewise supports improving the notification process to schools when development occurs.”

One issue that was discussed at length during Tuesday’s hearing was whether or not child care centers would be included in the final language.

During the comment portion, several parents, teachers and citizens from across the state referenced the need to include child care centers

“I am personally motivated to come here today because the Garfield County commissioners last Monday agreed [to not include] child care centers under this new ruling proposal,” Grand Valley Citizens’ Alliance Chair Leslie Robinson said at the hearing, which was streamed live on the internet.

“I am here to stress that their position does not reflect the opinion of all Garfield County citizens,” Robinson said.

While the local county commissioners chose not to include child care centers when they discussed the matter Dec. 10, Commissioner John Martin, representing the county in Denver Tuesday, said county officials have reviewed the proposed language, and “we agree with it and think it’s a good way to go.”

He said concerns county officials had about some definitions in the proposed language were addressed with the final version on Tuesday.

“Garfield County feels very strongly about safety, welfare and the protection of everyone, and I think we have demonstrated that,” Martin concluded.

Ultimately, child care centers were included in the final rule change, as the COGCC adopted what was proposed by a coalition of statewide conservation organizations, oil and gas interests and Colorado school districts.

The coalition, which included Matt Samelson, attorney for Conservation Colorado, League of Oil and Gas Impacted Coloradans and Western Colorado Alliance, proposed to include in the final language that child care centers are ones that are in operation at the time of pre-application notice.

“It is past time the COGCC consider the health and safety of kids,” said Sara Loflin, Executive Director of LOGIC. “Implementing a 1,000-foot setback from all school use areas and child care centers where kids learn and play is the least the COGCC can do.”

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