Oil and gas rigs can still operate within 1,000 feet of a school after Senate panel’s vote

Boulder County oil well pumpjack. Photo credit: Bo Insogna, the Lightning Man, via Creative Commons, Flickr

Oil and gas production wells and other facilities still have the ability to operate within 1,000 feet of a school, rather than the school’s property line, under action taken Wednesday by Senate Republicans at the state Capitol.

Just an hour later, in a seemingly “turnabout is fair play” move, House Democrats killed a bill that would have made tampering with oil and gas facilities a felony.

The first bill up Wednesday would have required new oil and gas production facilities to be located at least 1,000 feet from a school’s property line. Current law requires a 1,000-foot distance between a school building and an oil or gas facility or well, but doesn’t include any other high-traffic school property, such as playgrounds or athletic fields.

A 1,000-foot setback from a property line would then incorporate playgrounds and other school grounds. The measure would have applied to childcare facilities as well.

The measure drew strong opposition from the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, the state’s largest oil and gas companies and several business groups, including the Colorado Competitive Council, which is affiliated with the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce. It passed the Democratic-controlled House on March 29 along a 37 to 28 party-line vote.

The bill’s defeat Wednesday, on a 6 to 5 vote in the Republican-controlled Senate Agriculture, Natural Energy and Resources Committee, was not unexpected.

Only an hour or so later, another party-line vote put to an end a bill to make tampering with oil and gas facilities a felony. The bill’s defeat was expected given its committee assignment.

The measure, with GOP Rep. Jon Becker of Fort Morgan as its sponsor, would have heightened the penalty for messing with oil and gas equipment from its current misdemeanor to a class 6 felony, the lowest level felony in state law. The felony carries up to 18 months in prison and up to $100,000 in fines.

The bill was heard in the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee, known as the House’s “kill” committee, where leadership sends bills to die. That committee is chaired by Rep. Mike Foote of Longmont, the House sponsor of the setback bill.

The Senate passed the bill in February on a 19-16 vote, with one Democrat, Sen. Cheri Jahn of Wheat Ridge, voting in favor with the Senate’s 18 Republicans. The measure was supported by many of the same oil and gas companies that opposed the setback bill, and opposed by a host of conservation and environmental groups as well as the American Civil Liberties Union.


Photo credit: Bo Insogna, the Lightning Man, via Creative Commons license, Flickr



has been a political journalist since 1998. She covered the state capitol for the Silver & Gold Record from 1998 to 2009 and for The Colorado Statesman in 2010-11 and 2013-14. Since 2010 she also has covered the General Assembly for newspapers in northeastern Colorado. She was recognized with awards from the Colorado Press Association for feature writing and informational graphics for her work with the Statesman in 2012.