Colorado Setback Bill Defeated Amid Opposition From Agriculture, Business Groups
A bill that would change Colorado’s rules for siting oil and natural gas development was defeated in the state legislature, after agriculture and business groups voiced their opposition to the proposal.
The Colorado Farm Bureau and the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce joined a host of other groups in opposing the bill, according to the Associated Press. The bill was defeated in a 6-5 vote yesterday in the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee, effectively ending its chances of becoming law this year.
Under the 2013 regulations imposed by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), drilling cannot take place within 1,000 feet of school buildings or other high-occupancy structures. The bill, HB 1256, goes even further, banning oil and gas drilling within 1,000 feet of a school’s property line. Critics said the bill would impose unworkable restrictions on drilling in some of the state’s biggest energy producing areas.
The bill “was about politics, not safety,” Dan Haley, president and CEO of the Colorado Oil & Gas Association, said in a statement. “Recent health studies have shown that the current 1,000-foot setback, which was tripled in length just four years ago, is clearly a safe distance,” he said.
In February, a team of experts from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment published a report on oil and gas development, concluding “the risk of harmful health effects is low” for nearby residents.
In testimony during today’s committee hearing, the Colorado Petroleum Council warned the bill “would substantially increase the acreage in Colorado that would become off limits.” In Weld County, where most of the state’s drilling takes place, there are dozens of schools that occupy 10 acres or more, Tracee Bentley, CPC’s executive director, told the committee.
Banning drilling within 1,000 feet of those property lines would also “consequently be pushing oil and gas development towards other building units or land uses,” meaning that an energy company “may be forced to locate its wells closer to a subdivision or open space” in order to comply, Bentley said.
Control of Colorado’s state legislature is divided, with Republicans holding a majority in the Senate and Democrats running the House. The bill, championed by state Rep. Mike Foote (D), passed the House last month in a party line vote. Foote is from Boulder County, which has spent five years trying to block drilling by refusing to process local permits for activities tied to oil and natural gas development. Three cities in the county – Boulder, Longmont and Lafayette – also passed local ballot measures effectively banning oil and gas development.
But such bans have been found unlawful by the Colorado Supreme Court and the state’s attorney general, Cynthia Coffman (R), is now suing Boulder County to overturn the local permitting moratorium.
The vote to defeat the bill today in the Senate committee was also along party lines. In the lead up to the vote, a nonpartisan organization representing county-level officials across the state announced its opposition to HB 1256.
Colorado Counties Inc. (CCI) said the state legislature should not overturn regulations that were toughened by the COGCC in 2013. “CCI believes that the lengthy and robust rule making process undertaken at the COGCC included a wide variety of stakeholders and considered several setback options, ultimately agreeing upon the current 1000-foot setback from high occupancy buildings,” the group said in a legislative report to its members.
“This process works and continues to work; because of this, any future proposed changes should be submitted to the COGCC so that all stakeholders may have the opportunity to negotiate once again,” CCI said.