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State Adopts New Drilling Setback Distance

Greeley Drilling Photo.JPG
Photo by Kirk Siegler
A drill rig operating in the city of Greeley, Colo.

Colorado’s oil and gas conservation commission has voted in favor of increasing the drilling setback distance between oil and gas wells and homes statewide. But the move doesn’t go far enough for the environmental community and goes too far for industry.

State regulators overwhelming approved the new 500 foot distance between wells and buildings, such as homes. Right now the setback distance is 350 feet in urban areas.  The rule change comes as oil and gas development moves into populated areas along the front range and concerns about its impacts on health continue to grow.

“My sense is we probably will see some bills on fracking,” said Senate President John Morse (D-Colorado Springs). “And some may be more study related to say can we get some more data on how water quality or air quality impact public health, but I can’t point to a specific bill.”

Several Democratic lawmakers have been pushing for a drilling setback distance of at least 1 thousand feet. Under the new rules, energy operators drilling near homes and schools would also have to take extra measures to reduce noise, dust and traffic. The industry says the rules are too extreme.

“Our biggest concern is that it doesn’t give enough flexibility for the site specifics of the many stakeholders involved,” said Tisha Schuller, head of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association. “And once you set a distance like 500 feet, the bigger the distance, the more complicated the solution is.”

Schuller says her group wants to move beyond the polarizing debate of us vs. them, and make sure the rule is properly implemented. She says she hopes lawmakers respect the year long process and don’t try to upend it with new legislation.

Bente Birkeland has been reporting on state legislative issues for KUNC and Rocky Mountain Community Radio since 2006. Originally, from Minnesota, Bente likes to hike and ski in her spare time. She keeps track of state politics throughout the year but is especially busy during the annual legislative session from January through early May.
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