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Oil commission adopts expanded drilling buffers

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By Gene Sears

In keeping with earlier predictions, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission voted 8-1 Feb. 11 to expand buffer zones between oil and gas wells and buildings.
    The new standards bump the setbacks to 500 feet, a uniform distance increase from the previous 350 feet for urban areas and 150 for rural areas. Slated to take effect Aug. 1, the new rules face an uphill battle, satisfying neither the oil and gas industry, which held with the old setbacks, or environmental groups, who sought buffers of 1000 feet.
    Despite the disparity with environmentalists, the COGCC labeled the restrictions the strongest in the nation near homes and occupied structures, exceeding setback models in surrounding states.
    The decision is certain to raise the ire of Weld County officials, who came out last month against increasing the setbacks, The county board of commissioners went so far as to craft a resolution in opposition to the COGCC, asking them to dismiss plans to increase existing buffers.
    The Weld County resolution also states that the Board of Commissioners has “no intention of changing Weld County’s setbacks merely to mirror those setbacks set by the COGCC without any scientific or technological basis, which…the Proposed Amendments and new Rules lack.”
     “County government, our municipalities and the oil and gas industry have worked together for decades to develop setback regulations that work for Weld County,” said Commissioner Douglas Rademacher. “The proposed change, which is not based on science, will have a substantial negative impact on our farmers, our ranchers, our schools, our fire districts…these changes will negatively impact the entire state of Colorado.”
    COGCC Commissioner Tommy Holton, mayor of Fort Lupton, cast the sole vote against the measure. Holton said he found himself uncomfortable with what he saw as “changing the rules just because we could,” versus relying on quantifiable data.
    “Mostly, we didn’t have any data that was based in science,” Holton said. “The only thing that was there was some cancer rates from the state health department website. I pulled out eight counties, including Denver and Weld, and Weld had the lowest rates of the eight I pulled out, Denver was the worst, and they have no wells.”
    Citing COGCC funding of a planned study of the issue by the state health department and Colorado State University, Holton felt the vote might have been premature.
    “I just felt like we should wait until we get some good data, in order to make a decision,” Holton said. “If it’s 100 feet, fine, if it’s 1000 feet, whatever. Basically it looked to me like we were just changing the rules because we could, and I don’t think that is a good idea.”

Contact Staff Writer Gene Sears at
gsears@metrowestnewspapers.com.