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Colorado Regulators Want Oil Wells Much Further Away From Homes, Schools

The members of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) supported four-to-one a proposal to extend the setback for oil wells from homes and schools to 2,000 feet—four times the current buffer.

The COGCC is considering changes in the state regulations about oil and gas drilling in Colorado after the state passed in 2019 Senate Bill 181, which says that public health and welfare should be prioritized in the regulation of oil and gas drilling.   

In the 2018 midterm elections, voters in Colorado were asked to vote on a ballot proposition to increase the setback distance for drilling oil and gas wells by five times to 2,500 feet, which would have put a lot of land off-limits for new developments. Back then, Proposition 112 requiring much greater setback distance failed with 56.75 percent of votes against, which was then a relief for Colorado drillers such as Anadarko, Noble Energy, and Devon Energy, who had sponsored the ‘no’ camp in the campaign.

But with the 2019 bill, state regulators have to change some regulations in order to comply with that Senate Bill.

COGCC’s chairman Jeff Robbins told The Colorado Sun that support for the extended setbacks for oil and gas wells from homes and schools is “a paradigm shift” which sends a signal to operators who “ought to check in with the commission and local governments early on” if their drilling plan would be doable.

Former COGCC director Dave Neslin, who represented the oil and gas industry, said at one of the commission’s hearings this week that more distance from oil and gas wells will “exponentially increase the amount of land that is off limits to oil and gas developments,” and potentially lead to conflicts with local governments where wells should be located, The Denver Post reports.  

Others in the oil industry criticized the commission’s support for extended setbacks, with Dan Haley, president of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, telling The Colorado Sun via email that “The setback recommendation is completely arbitrary, not based on science, and is being made without any legitimate consideration of its impacts on working families across our state.”

By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com

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