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Setbacks Are The Core Issue At Oil And Gas Commission Hearings

Jim Hill

The Colorado Oil and Gas commission wraps up a three-day hearing in Denver Wednesday. At stake are new rules to oversee a new boom in oil and gas drilling.

At the heart of those rules: changing how far a drill rig can be from homes and schools, otherwise known as the setback.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Commission is proposing to mandate a 500 foot setback distance between oil and gas wells and buildings – up from the current 350 feet in urban areas. Environmental groups and people in towns such as Longmont and Boulder are pushing back against the rules.

“Our proposal all along has been 1000 feet to offer protections from noise, dust, air pollution, water problems, just living next to a heavy industry activity. We think it is the distance to give people the protections they need,” said Pete Maysmith, who heads Conservation Colorado.

Maysmith is also calling for action from the Governor. “This is a Governor that did paid radio spots for the oil and gas trade association. This is a Governor that led the state in a lawsuit against the city of Longmont over regulations that were passed,” said Maysmith.

“His advocacy of his industry would be one thing if there was the leadership as well in demanding the strongest environmental protections.”

For his part, Governor John Hickenlooper says he doesn’t need to insert himself into the middle of the current negotiations. While he hasn’t commented on the latest setback proposal, he is a strong advocate of natural gas.

“There are many positive benefits from horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing such as inexpensive natural gas. Our air is significantly clear than it was even six years ago because as natural gas becomes price competitive with coal, it is cleaner and easier for a plant to run,” said Hickenlooper.

Even if the oil and gas commission adopts the new rules, the issue is not going away. State lawmakers will consider legislation to increase the setback distance even farther and add more environmental protections during this year’s session.

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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