Colorado oil and gas commission grants petition to change setback rules for new wells and schools

Posted at 6:22 PM, Jul 30, 2018
and last updated 2018-07-30 20:22:13-04

DENVER -- The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) granted a petition Monday that will change the current setback rules for how close new wells must be from schools.

In a 6-2 vote, the commission voted in favor of a petition filed by the League of Oil and Gas Impacted Coloradans (LOGIC) that will kick-off a lengthy rulemaking process to alter the current rules.

Under current state regulations, new wells must be 1,000 feet from a school building.

The petition, as it stands now, increases the setback to be 1,000 feet from the school property line, which will provide a larger buffer zone between oil and gas development and where kids play on playgrounds or athletic fields.

"When they're out on the playground, when they're out on the fields, they're more directly exposed to whatever is taking place," said Matt Samelson, with Western Environmental Partners.

However, by granting the petition the commission is only starting the rulemaking process. The exact language of the rule change remains fluid and can still be altered as needed throughout the process.

At the center of this debate has been schools like Bella Romero Elementary School in Greeley. Extraction Oil Gas operates a well pad near the school, which is legally 1,000 feet from the school building but sits much closer to the playground and soccer field where kids play.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA), who represents the industry, opposed the petition.

"Attach setback rules to school property boundaries, we feel that this is arbitrary and impractical approach," COGA's Scott Prestidge said during the hearing.  

Instead, COGA offered a different solution. They want to see an existing rule modified to identify designated outdoor areas around schools.

All options that remain on the table during the rulemaking process, which will likely take several months to complete, and involve meetings with stakeholders as well as opportunities for the public to weight in.

COGCC staff said it will draft an order recognizing the commissions direction as soon as possible and provide notice to the Secretary of State's Office. Once that is complete, COGCC said more information will be posted on their website.