Colorado expands buffer zone between schools, oil-gas wells

An oil rig in Commerce City, March 9, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

An oil rig in Commerce City, March 9, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

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By Dan Elliott, Associated Press

Colorado oil and gas regulators voted Tuesday to expand the mandatory buffer zone between new wells and school property, a rare victory for proponents of tighter rules for the industry.

The state Oil and Gas Conservation Commission will now require that new wells be at least 1,000 feet (305 meters) from any outdoor area or building used by schools and day care centers.

The old rules required the same size buffer zone but measured it only from buildings, not outdoor areas. That allowed wells to be drilled closer to playgrounds and sports fields.

The rule also applies to future facilities if schools plan to have them in place within three years.

“It is past time the COGCC consider the health and safety of kids,” said Sara Loflin, executive director of the League of Oil and Gas Impacted Coloradans. “It is ridiculous that we have had to fight to get oil and gas sites further away from kids and the places where they learn and play,” Loflin said in a written statement.

The Colorado Petroleum Council supported the new rule, calling it a compromise produced by cooperation.

“Today’s rulemaking is a direct result of good-faith compromise and collaboration, and we appreciate the partnership that helped move this effort forward,” said Tracee Bentley, director of the council.

The change was uncontroversial compared with other recent oil and gas debates in Colorado, where wells, storage tanks and gas processing plants sometimes share the same neighborhoods as homes and schools.

The industry spent heavily on campaign ads this year to defeat a ballot measure that would have required a buffer zone of 2,500 feet (750 meters) from occupied buildings and from vulnerable areas such as parks, creeks and irrigation canals. Voters rejected the measure.

Advocates for tougher regulation said Tuesday the new school rule was only a small step and expressed hope that state government would be more receptive to them after the November election.

Democrats, who already controlled the House, captured the Senate from Republicans. And Democratic Gov.-elect Jared Polis is seen as less accommodating toward the industry than his predecessor, John Hickenlooper, a term-limited Democrat who once worked as a petroleum geologist.

“We look forward to working with Gov.-elect Polis and the Legislature to ensure that health and safety of all Coloradans is prioritized when it comes to oil and gas development,” said Sophia Mayott-Guerrero of Conservation Colorado.
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Follow Dan Elliott at http://twitter.com/DanElliottAP.

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