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Oil and gas drilling operations could be placed further from schools

New oil and gas drilling operations would have to be built further away from schools than they are now. That's according to a bill that advanced in the House on Wednesday. Democrats backed it after a seven-hour hearing in a packed room at the Capitol.

Four years ago, Colorado created a rule: Oil and gas drilling must be at least 1,000 feet from schools. It is called a "setback." And there is a catch: The setback distance begins from the school building and not the school's property line.  Supporters of House Bill 1256 want to change that. They say, under the current rule, oil and gas rigs can be built near playgrounds or ball fields. Harvey Teitelbaum lives in Evergreen and volunteers for the Sierra Club, an environmental group. He worries that oil and gas operators near schools pose potential dangers to children, especially in the event of an accident.

“A lot of these toxic chemicals have not even been tested for, we don’t even know the health effects. Children are more susceptible,” he said.

Business and industry groups lined up in opposition to the bill, arguing that the current setback is enough, that the industry is safe, and that the proposal could be a blow financially. Mike Kopp heads Colorado Concern, a consortium of Colorado CEOs.

There are no health issues here at play,” Kopp said. “And this is essentially the legislature directing an agency that makes decisions based on data and science to issue an effect a ban in certain instances.”

The bill passed along party lines. Republicans in the Senate are expected to defeat it should it reach that chamber.