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School Drill: Too Close for Comfort

A new review of active and prospective well data in four northern Colorado counties, researched by Western Resource Advocates, found nearly 200 wells within 2,000 feet of a public school.

In Adams, Boulder, Broomfield and Weld counties, 32 public schools are within 2,000 feet of a drilling site, and 26 of those schools are within 1,000 feet. Colorado law only mandates a 350-foot setback from schools and residential areas for oil and gas wells, a much shorter distance than required for businesses such as medical marijuana dispensaries or liquor stores. In fact, it is illegal in Colorado to idle a vehicle for more than 5 minutes within 1,000 feet of a school -- but you can drill for oil and gas, spewing potentially toxic chemicals into the air, as long as you aren't closer than 350 feet.

*Note on reading the map below: The first number is the number of wells within 1,000 feet of a school. The number in parenthesis indicates the number of wells between 1,000 and 2,000 feet of a school. Adding both numbers together equates to the total number of wells that are within 2,000 feet of a school.

drilling near schools

Researchers from the University of Colorado's School of Public Health released a study in March showing that people living within a half-mile of oil and gas fracking operations were exposed to air pollutants at a level that is five times higher than the federal hazard standard. Researchers found a number of potentially toxic chemicals in the air near the wells, including benzene, ethylbenzene, toluene and xylene. The chemicals could lead to neurological or respiratory effects that include eye irritation, headaches, sore throat and difficulty breathing. Our research found 32 public schools near active or proposed drilling sites in just four Northern Colorado counties:

  • 32: number of public schools in a four-county region in Northern Colorado with active or proposed drilling operations nearby;
  • 87: active and proposed oil and gas wells within 1,000 feet of a public school in Adams, Boulder, Broomfield and Weld counties;
  • 199: active and proposed oil and gas wells between 1,000 and 2,000 feet of a public school in Adams, Boulder, Broomfield and Weld counties;
  • 17,482: student population of these schools for the 2011-12 school year.

Minimum Setback Comparisons

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission's (COGCC) Rule 603 requires an oil or gas well to be 150 feet from a surface property line, or 350 feet from any designated outside activity area, such as a playground or public meeting space. In high density areas, wellheads must be at least 350 feet from an educational facility, but the production equipment must be kept 500 feet away (unless that is impossible for the well operator, who can file an objection).

Oil and gas wells are allowed to be much closer to schools and residential areas than many other businesses. Take a look below at some comparisons of minimum distance requirements for schools. In the City of Louisville, for example, you must keep a dog kennel further away from a school than an oil or gas drilling site.

1,000 Foot Minimum Distance from School

  • Medical marijuana dispensary (State of Colorado)
  • Alcohol and drug treatment facilities (Boulder County)
  • It is illegal to idle a commercial diesel vehicle for more than 5 minutes near a school (State of Colorado)

  • 660 Foot Minimum Distance from School

  • Animal kennels (City of Louisville)
  • Salvage junkyards (City of Louisville)

  • 600 Foot Minimum Distance from School

  • Arcade and gambling-type games (City of Louisville)

  • 500 Foot Minimum Distance from School

  • Liquor Store (State of Colorado)
  • Amusement and arcade centers (Adams County)

  • 350 Foot Minimum Distance from School

    Oil and gas drilling (State of Colorado)