- A bill requiring oil and gas wells to be drilled at least 1,000 feet from nearby schools or homes in Colorado died Monday when the state House Judiciary Committee voted 8-3 to postpone indefinitely further hearings on it.
But the three-hour hearing on House Bill 1176, sponsored by Rep. Su Ryden, D-Aurora, offered the first glimpse of the broad outlines of the Legislature’s 2012 fight over oil and gas operations in Colorado, and how the state’s new Niobrara oil boom has stirred concerns along the populous Front Range.
The committee was scheduled to hear a second bill, restricting the use of open pits to hold water used during hydraulic fracturing operations, later on Monday.
Oil and gas companies have spent millions of dollars in the last few years leasing thousands of acres of mineral rights under Weld, Adams, Arapahoe, Douglas, Elbert and El Paso counties — including near communities that haven’t seen much, if any, drilling activity in years. A lease is a precursor to drilling.
And the potential for hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in these area has drawn a lot of attention from residents and elected officials. Fracking uses water, sand and chemicals to crack open underground rock formations.
“There’s a lot of public concern about this issue,” said committee member Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora. “I’m not sure if it’s the chemicals or the fracking.”
During the hearing:
• Supporters of the bill said the 1,000-foot setback requirement was needed to protect the public’s health and safety. They also criticized the state for allowing minimum requirements to be 350 feet in urban areas, an issue the state promised to revisit when it finished the massive overhaul of Colorado oil and gas rules in 2008.
“This bill is in response to the lack of action by the COGCC [Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission],” Ryden told the committee. “This boom is coming to towns and counties that never expected to see oil and gas drilling rigs coming to their back yards. I wouldn’t be sitting her today if they had done their job.”
Ryden also said her bill addressed concerns about local counties creating their own oil and gas rules, potentially creating a patchwork quilt of regulations as Colorado’s 64 counties each wrote its own regulations.
“A statewide, 1,000-foot setback would alleviate that concern,” she said.
• Opponents of the bill said Colorado’s existing rules are doing a good job, and new ones aren’t needed.
“Colorado, over time, has taken great pains to involve the local surface owner and local government, more than any other state,” Jim Cole, a lobbyist representing the Colorado Oil & Gas Association trade group, told the committee.
About 75 percent of the wells drilled in Colorado are at least 1,000 feet from any building already, and most of those buildings are rural outbuildings, such as barns and structures for water wells, said Bob Randall, deputy director of the Department of Natural Resources, which oversees the COGCC.
And the COGCC is launching a series of meetings with stakeholders, expected to start in March, to tackle the setback issue, officials said.
• And economic arguments clashed with arguments about balancing diverse needs.
“Everybody in this building is talking about jobs, jobs, jobs,” said Rep. David Balmer, R-Centennial. “I’m concerned that this bill will send another shock wave across the country that Colorado is not open for business and the oil and gas companies should look elsewhere for places to invest their money.
“Why do you want to run a bill that could be interpreted as Colorado killing jobs?” he asked Ryden.
She responded that she wanted to give the industry the certainty of knowing that there was a standard in place, and that it was a 1,000 feet setback from any home or school.
“I’d be willing to go further, but people thought that was far enough,” she said.
“This is about public safety and public health and protecting the homeowners rights on the issue,” Fields said.
- Colorado: ‘Rabble’ getting in the way of gas drilling? (summitcountyvoice.com)
- Drilling Advances Prompt Escalating Fight In Colorado (denver.cbslocal.com)
- Colorado: Big loopholes in proposed fracking regs (summitcountyvoice.com)
- Turning Wisconsin into a Fracking Sandbox (peaceandbread.com)
- Colorado: Battle brewing over fracking rules (summitcountyvoice.com)
- U.S. to require disclosure of fracking fluids on public land (reuters.com)
- Anti-Fracking Activists Poach the X Games Half Pipe Competition (thinkprogress.org)
- Leading question linked to fracking poll results (junkscience.com)