House widens buf­fer

Pre­lim­i­nary OK given to bill that in­creases space be­tween schools, drill sites

The Denver Post - - BUSINESS - By Brian Ea­son

Over the protests of Repub­li­cans who called it an “un­fair as­sault” on the oil and gas in­dus­try, the Colorado House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives on Tuesday gave pre­lim­i­nary ap­proval to a bill that would es­tab­lish a larger buf­fer be­tween schools and new oil and gas drilling fa­cil­i­ties and wells.

Cur­rent rules es­tab­lished by the Colorado Oil and Gas Con­ser­va­tion Com­mis­sion bar pro­duc­tion fa­cil­i­ties from be­ing built closer than 1,000 feet from a school build­ing — a pro­vi­sion that Democrats call a dan­ger­ous loop­hole. If it’s un­safe to be within 1,000 feet of a school build­ing, they con­tend, what about school play­grounds and ball­fields?

House Bill 1256, ap­proved Tuesday on a voice vote, would ap­ply that 1,000-foot dis­tance, called a set­back, to a school’s prop­erty line rather than a build­ing. Ex­ist­ing wells and per­mit­ted sites would be grand­fa­thered in.

But while the bill’s likely to get fi­nal ap­proval from the House when it’s heard on third read­ing, it’s un­likely to be­come law. If passed, it would head to the Se­nate, where Repub­li­cans are al­most cer­tain to re­ject it.

Democrats and en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists said the bill rep­re­sents a sen­si­ble safety pre­cau­tion. When the mea­sure was heard in com­mit­tee at a marathon hear­ing ear­lier this month, dozens of wit­nesses cited ex­am­ples of air pol­lu­tants, spills and fires at oil and gas sites as ev­i­dence that a big­ger buf­fer was needed.

“It just doesn’t make any sense to put some­thing that can ex­plode a cou­ple hun­dred feet away from a play­ground,” bill spon­sor Rep. Mike Foote, D-Lafayette, told

the House health com­mit­tee.

Repub­li­cans, though, pointed to a study pub­lished ear­lier this year by the Colorado De­part­ment of Public Health and En­vi­ron­ment that found lit­tle ev­i­dence of health prob­lems caused by liv­ing near an oil or gas fa­cil­ity, deem­ing it a “low risk” public health con­cern.

And, they said the in­dus­try was al­ready suf­fi­ciently reg­u­lated by the oil and gas com­mis­sion.

“What more do we want of this in­dus­try other than we don’t want this in­dus­try?” As­sis­tant Mi­nor­ity Leader Cole Wist, R-Cen­ten­nial, said Tuesday.

The com­mis­sion has long been crit­i­cized by en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists who be­lieve it is too def­er­en­tial to the in­dus­try. Ear­lier this month, en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists got a boost from a Colorado Court of Ap­peals rul­ing, which de­ter­mined the com­mis­sion has to pro­tect public health and the en­vi­ron­ment and not merely “bal­ance” public health con­cerns with the in­dus­try’s in­ter­ests, as com­mis­sion of­fi­cials have long in­ter­preted state law to re­quire.

That de­ci­sion may yet be ap­pealed to the state Supreme Court.

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