The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission Tuesday unanimously approved new rules to increase setbacks between new oil and gas operations and schools as well as child care facilities.
But some anti-fracking activists said the change will not keep them from pursuing legislation in 2019 or another ballot measure to increase oil and gas buffer zones.
Current rules require a 1,000-foot setback between new oil and gas drilling and school buildings, but only a 350-foot setback from sports fields and other outdoor facilities.
The new rule requires that 1,000-foot setback to now include outdoor and modular school facilities, playgrounds and sports fields. It also includes play areas for child care facilities.
The change was endorsed by the Colorado Association of School Boards and several school districts, including in Adams County.
It also won praise from Conservation Colorado, which said in a statement that the new rules close a loophole "that formerly allowed oil and gas activity to occur near school playgrounds and sports fields, as long as it was 1,000 feet from the school building."
Sara Loflin of the League of Oil and Gas Impacted Coloradans said: “It is past time the COGCC consider the health and safety of kids. ... It is ridiculous that we have had to fight to get oil and gas sites further away from kids and the places where they learn and play.”
The Colorado Petroleum Council and the Colorado Oil and Gas Association also cheered Tuesday's rulemaking.
Tracee Bentley of the Petroleum Council said the new rules are "a direct result of good-faith compromise and collaboration, and we appreciate the partnership that helped move this effort forward.
“The natural gas and oil industry likewise supports improving the notification process to schools when development occurs," Bentley added. "We are committed to transparency and providing open lines of communication with all parties who live, work and play near natural gas and oil development. These are our communities, too, and we are committed to proactively addressing this and future issues as they present themselves.”
Dan Haley of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association said the industry "participated in countless meetings and conversations over the past year with schools and school districts, and participating environmental organizations, and we are proud of what has been accomplished. If we take the time to work on important and complex issues together, we can find constructive solutions."
While activists applauded the change, some said it's not enough to prevent them from going to the General Assembly or Gov.-elect Jared Polis -- or from seeking another ballot measure -- to increase the overall setback distance.
Proposition 112 on the November ballot, which would have boosted the buffer zone between drilling operations and buildings structures from 500 feet to 2,500 feet, was defeated by 10 percentage points.
During Tuesday's COGCC hearing, Kate Burke of the Boulder County attorney's office said that "we support the consensus draft" boosting buffers around school grounds. However, she said, "we do see this as a bare minimum and a small step in the right direction, the beginning of a process, not an end," both on the setback distance and the types of facilities covered.
Sophia Mayott-Guerrero of Conservation Colorado said in a statement that "this is just one small step forward; we look forward to working with Governor-elect Polis and the legislature to ensure that health and safety of all Coloradans is prioritized when it comes to oil and gas development.”
Anne Lee Foster of Colorado Rising -- the main group behind 112 -- also called the move a step in the right direction, but added that it's not enough.
"The rulemaking was not based on any health study and will have only a minimum impact on protecting children" from explosions, Foster told Colorado Politics, adding that the changed setback will not protect children from the health issues of being exposed to oil and gas development, nor will it have any impact on the industry's bottom line.
"We want rulemaking based on science," Foster said.
Colorado Rising announced last Friday it would pursue another ballot measure if the General Assembly or Polis don't take what it views as sufficient action on fracking concerns.