FACT CHECK: Colorado Setback Rules

Last month, Gov. John Hickenlooper spoke at a Western National Governors Association meeting in Broomfield, Colo. where he touted his record for having enacted the strongest set back rules in the country. The truth is Gov. Hickenlooper has often opposed public health protections. In fact, Gov. Hickenlooper has enacted oil and gas regulations, which are controversial and riddled with loopholes.

At Western Values Project, we know the importance of oil and gas development to our economy, but that doesn’t mean we can’t implement reasonable safeguards for our water, air and communities.  Our small businesses, families, communities and long-term economic prosperity depend on those precautions.


“We have been able to enact one of the strongest setback rules in the nation.”

– Gov. John Hickenlooper, Denver Post 9/9/13


In February 2013, Gov. Hickenlooper’s Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission adopted new setback rules, which supposedly created a 500 ft. setback near homes. Gov. Hickenlooper’s setback rules are riddled with exemptions and fall far short of being one of the strongest in the nation.

There are four ways oil and gas companies can avoid the setback requirement.

1.     Rural areas exception: Oil and gas company operating in rural areas can apply for and will receive an exception to the setback requirement as long as the oil and gas company proposes “economically practicable” mitigations to minimize public health and environment impacts. This exception could be applied to 95 percent of the wells in rural Colorado. (Rule 604.a.(1)(B))

2.     Using current wells to locate new drilling operations near homes: An oil and gas company can apply for an exception to expand current drilling operations for existing wells, turning a one well into a multi-well industrial operation near homes. (Rule 604.b.(1))

3.     Landowner agreements: Under the rule, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is required to provide an exception if an oil and gas company has an agreement in place with one landowner for the operation. This exception is allowed even if the well is adjacent to a subdivision or apartment building, forcing the drilling activity upon other Colorado residents who have no say in the matter. (Rule 604.b.(2))

4.     General exception: An oil and gas company can apply for an exception to this or any other public health and environment mitigation rule. (Rule 503.b)

Gov. Hickenlooper’s 500 ft. setback also falls far short of tougher standards enacted by other states and local governments. Here’s a sample.

West Virginia: 625 ft. setback

Maryland: 1,000 ft. setback

Texas local governments:

Arlington, TX – 600 feet from residences

Colleyville, TX – 1,000 feet from any building used for human occupancy

Denton, TX – 1,000 feet from homes

Dish, TX – 1,000 feet from any building used for human occupancy

Flowermound, TX – 1,500 feet from residences

Fort Worth, TX – 600 feet from residences

Grand Prairie, TX – 700 feet from residences

Keller, TX – 600 feet from residences

North Richland Hills, TX – 600 feet from residences

Southlake, TX – 1,000 feet from habitable structures

Weatherford, TX – 1,000 feet from residences

New Mexico local governments:

Santa Fe County, NM – 750 ft. from inhabited dwellings

Rio Arriba County, NM – 650 ft. from dwellings

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