A House Democrat representing a Denver suburb compared oil and natural gas development to making explosives and rat poison during debate on the Colorado House floor at the Capitol on Monday.

In comments over HB-1352, Rep. Matt Gray (D-Broomfield), a sponsor of the bill to clarify setbacks near schools, told his colleagues, “If all you hear about what’s going on is what happens at this well, what you see in the newspaper, you don’t understand what that means to the residents who are affected by that. You would understand it if somebody said, ‘I want to put a fireworks factory in your district.’ People would be like, ‘What is going on, you’re going to put that next to a neighborhood?’”

“They would be incredibly upset about that. If they were going to put a rat poison manufacturing facility in your district, you’d be incredibly alarmed about that,” he continued.

Gray then called for “rational conversations” about oil and gas development, saying the Colorado legislature has a difficult time dealing with the issue.

“We have a very hard time processing that here because we have a very hard time having rational conversations about oil and gas in this building,” Gray said.

The bill, which passed out of the House on Tuesday by a 35-29 vote, will move to the Senate for consideration.  It faces a tough slog in the Senate’s State, Veterans, and Military Affairs committee today, where Republicans hold a 3-2 edge.

The measure would create stricter guidelines for setbacks, moving the boundary for the current 1,000 foot setback from school buildings to the school’s property line. That would require moving oil and gas facilities away from football fields and other school facilities within the property line.

Gray represents portions of Broomfield, Boulder, and Weld counties. Oil and gas development has been a contentious issue for areas like Broomfield, which passed a ballot measure in 2017 that would enable the city to require additional protections before permitting drilling. Weld County is the state’s largest oil and gas producer, with 91 percent of Colorado’s oil production.

Western Wire reached out to Gray for clarification on his comments.

“Oil and gas development, pyrotechnic assembly and pest control manufacturing are all activities that carry inherent risks that must be accounted for. They also provide services that citizens want or need. Obviously, oil and gas is a significantly larger part of our Colorado economy than the first two,” Gray wrote in an email.

Gray’s colleague and co-sponsor, Rep. Mike Foote (D-Lafayette), also supports increasing setbacks.

“It is clear something needs to change but it won’t change unless we try. I can’t stand by while our school kids next to these dangerous industrial operations are at risk of injury or worse,” Foote said. Foote stood next to Gray on the House floor Monday as he delivered his comments.

“I will always do the right thing for Boulder County regardless of the position taken by the oil and gas industry,” he said.

Colorado Oil and Gas Association President Dan Haley, said his organization opposes the bill while the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) explores the issue.

“Given that the COGCC is the state agency responsible for managing setbacks, we don’t believe it is appropriate to legislate an outcome before we understand the results of those conversations. COGA hopes to fully participate in that process so that we may best understand the truths of this issue,” he told the Times-Call.