State taking closer look at how close drilling should be to schools

DENVER -- An oil and gas site currently cannot be within 1,000 feet from a school's physical building. Some believe that doesn't goes far enough.

On Monday, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission advanced a measure to take a closer look at how close oil and gas operations take place near school property line.

A proposed rule change would make it so it is 1,000 feet from the school's property line.

Throughout the meeting supporters said children often are on the playgrounds and at football stadiums -- finding themselves much closer to well pads.

"We are starting to have to have [school] evacuations because of the oil and gas industry,"  Abby Maltie, a parent from Thornton, said.

Bella Romera School in Greeley has been the subject of this debate most notably. 

Energy leaders opposed an industry line property line set back.

"School property lines are highly variable and there are often sections of those properties that are hardly utilized," Scott Prestige, a spokesman with the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, said.

Before the commission advanced the proposal, it was clear many Commissioners had reservations about a 1,000 foot setback, deciding to advance the measure anyway because they believed it was the best way to suggest amendments to the proposal in the future.

One focus of the debate was classifying student used areas -- like playgrounds and football fields -- as designated outdoor activity areas with setbacks of their own.

Commissioners suggested this rule was already in place but lacked proper regulatory clarifications for school districts.

Prestige, along with other energy representatives, suggested support for this proposal.

Nevertheless, supporters of stricter rules praised the move by the commission, believing this was a key first step.

"Its definitely a win," Matt Samelson, an environmental attorney, said. "I think commissioners understand that there is some concern out in the public about oil and gas industry encroaching on school districts."

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