PARACHUTE, Colo.- - HB1265 clarifies that for public and private schools or childcare facilities, the property line is the measuring point rather than the actual building. This would apply to any new oil and gas facilities.
The current Colorado law requires oil and gas facilities be 1,000 feet away from any high occupancy buildings. These are things like hospitals, schools, or apartment buildings. HB1256 is only concerned with the distance from schools. Supporters believe by making the measurement point the property line will protect children on playgrounds or athletic fields. "It's just to protect health and the safety of children on school ground, not just in their school building," says Leslie Robinson, the chair of the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance.
The bill hopes to protect children from any potential hazards an oil and gas facility may have, according to supporters. "In fact, in 2016 there were over 110 spills that occurred within 1,000 feet of an occupied structure. I just think there is a recognition that these operations are dangerous, and accidents can happen," says Mike Foote (D), a member of the Colorado House of Representatives and proponent of the bill.
There are examples of oil and gas facilities being placed within 1,000 feet of school property. A proposed pad near Grand Valley High School also happens to be close to resident Dutch Wierenga. "I don't really want to see it but, you know, I'm not against drilling for gas," says Wierenga. He mentioned his biggest concern about the project is the high school students safety.
The company proposing this new pad location is the Ursa Resources Group. According to their Vice President Don Simpson, they have taken the Grand Valley High School Board on a tour of an active drilling site. He does not see the need for this small change to the current law. "I personally attended an elementary school that was in the middle of an oil and gas field, and there were no ill effects for anyone that I knew of," says Simpson.
Emily Hornback, the community organizer with Western Colorado Congress, says since this clarification to the law only applies to new facilities it should be implemented sooner rather than later. "We aren't saying anything about any particular operator, we just know that there are accidents that happen and we want to make sure that there's enough protection and buffer between that and kids," says Hornback.
The bill will go before the House Committee this Thursday, with Hornback and Robinson heading to Denver to testify for it.