Senate Republicans Block Extended Oil and Gas Drilling Setbacks From School Property

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On Wednesday, a state Senate committee killed a Democratic-sponsored bill that would have required a distance of at least 1,000 feet between oil and gas drilling sites and school property lines.

Two weeks after passing the state House, which is controlled by Democrats, the bill lost in a 6-5 vote split across party lines, favoring the Republican majority on the eleven-person Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy committee.

The bill, introduced and sponsored by Representative Mike Foote, would have doubled the required distance between drilling and schools from 500 to 1,000 feet. The setback’s starting point would also have been moved from the school building itself to the school’s property line, which can be hundreds of feet from the actual facility.

According to Foote, who represents eastern Boulder County, measuring the current setback from the school building means that drilling can legally take place near playgrounds, school grounds and athletic fields.

The bill was also intended to fix legal discrepancies between the state and some local governments that have enacted stronger setbacks than those required by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, which is overseen by the governor’s office.

“Unfortunately the local governments that are trying to work on [this issue] are getting sued by the oil and gas industry,” Foote says. Boulder County is currently defending a lawsuit filed by Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman over its temporary fracking ban, and may face legal challenges over strict regulations that will go into effect on May 1.

Wednesday's vote was celebrated by the oil and gas industry while condemned by Democrats and activists. The Colorado Oil and Gas Association, which represents the interests of oil and gas operators in Colorado, expressed gratitude for state legislatures who “stopped the bill in its tracks.”

In a statement on the outcome of the vote, President and CEO Dan Haley wrote that, “Our top value in this industry is safety — safety of our employees and safety of the surrounding communities. Unfortunately, Rep. Foote's bill, which was introduced more than halfway through the session, was about politics, not safety.”

Haley added that the current setback is “clearly a safe distance,” citing “recent health studies.” Foote expressed disappointment, citing Senate Republicans and the oil and gas industry for the bill's failure.

“It’s too bad the bill was defeated first of all — and secondly, that it was defeated for no good reason," he says. "Unfortunately, the way it appears is that the oil and gas industry opposes the bill and Republicans vote no.”

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