Commerce City faces prospect of nearly 200 new wells
As the vote nears on a statewide proposal mandating significantly bigger buffers around new oil and gas wells, Commerce City elected officials and residents face the prospect of a nearly 20fold increase in the number of wells in the city.
Applications from a handful of companies propose approximately 190 wells in the city and 40 more wells outside but near the city boundaries. The applications filed with the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, the state regulatory body, propose drilling several wells from 10 separate “pads,” or sites in the city.
Most of the sites would be on the fastgrowing north side, which is heavily residential. To the residents who oppose the drilling, that’s a big problem.
“Our fundamental belief is that industrial uses are not compatible with densely populated residential areas,” Susan Noble said during a Sept. 10 City Council study session.
Along with wells, the sites would contain other equipment, including oil and water tanks and equipment set up to capture emissions and separate the oil and gas from other liquids. De
pending on the number of wells, a pad can cover several acres.
Wells will run horizontally under “our neighborhoods, under our homes and schools,” said Noble, who formed the group North Range Concerned Citizens in the spring.
Councilman Steve Douglas agrees that intense oil and gas drilling doesn’t belong in the quickly growing neighborhoods, which include a new recreation center and parks.
“This north area has grown so much,” Douglas said. “Our growth rate right now is two families of four moving in every day. That’s significant.”
Douglas and Noble support Commerce City and other communities that don’t want drilling in neighborhoods and other parts of their cities to strike a unified front against the development.
“If that means they have to sue, it means they have to sue,” Noble said. “If it means building a broad coalition to pressure on the state, they should do it.”
Mayor Sean Ford said he understands people’s frustration but stressed that the state, not cities, has the ultimate authority on oil and gas drilling permits. All the city can do is work with the companies to minimize the impacts, he said.
“We’re doing what we can to move the potential drilling as far away as we can from residences,” Ford said. “All of us on the City Council live in the city. We don’t want the wells any closer to any of residences any more than we want them near our own homes.”
Amanda Boldenow is among those who wants the city to keep drilling out of the city. She and her husband moved into the north part of Commerce City after having their house built in 2015. She said her inlaws moved from Seattle to be with them and their toddler and are upset about the proposed drilling.
“We’ll be totally surrounded if all of these go in,” Boldenow said.
There are only 12 active wells in the city now. An additional 46 wells have been plugged and abandoned.
Although council members and residents have expressed some of the same concerns as proponents of Proposition 112, which would require that new oil and gas wells be at least 2,500 feet from homes and schools, Noble said she wasn’t aware of the ballot proposal when she first learned about the proposed drilling. She now supports the measure, which, if approved, would block most of the new wells in Commerce City, according to a map by the oil and gas commission projecting the effects of the ballot proposal.
The current requirement for setbacks is that new oil and gas wells be drilled at least 500 feet from homes and 1,000 feet from schools. As drilling has increased in more populated areas in the Denver area and farther north, complaints about noise and traffic and concerns about health and safety have shot up.
Fears intensified after two men died in a home explosion in Firestone in 2017 when a flow line attached to an oil well 170 feet from the house was cut. Investigators say an odorless mix of propane and methane seeped into the house through drains and a sump pump and ignited.
Noble said she worries that companies are rushing to get their permits approved in case the citizeninitiated measure is approved Nov. 6.
In fact, the number of drilling permits in the pipeline is up dramatically from last year. As of Aug. 18, state regulators were considering 5,489 drilling permits, compared with 1,855 at the same point a year ago.
“With prices having rebounded from two years ago, the economics are good for oil and natural gas development in Colorado. That, plus the fact that Proposition 112 is an attempt to ban our businesses, is pushing permitting application levels,” said Dan Haley, president and CEO of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, a trade organization.
However, Extraction Oil and Gas, which has submitted applications for about half the wells being pro posed in Commerce City, has put a hold on its permits as a goodfaith measure while it continues discussions with the city, company spokesman Brian Cain said Thursday.
“Extraction is known for working collaboratively with the communities where we live and operate,” Cain said.
While the state decides whether to approve drilling permits and plans, it requires companies to negotiate with communities and other landowners to try to reach an agreement on how aboveground activities are handled.
The city‘s staff asked the companies to put their applications on hold “until significant progress has been made on establishing the framework for best management practices that would apply to all of the proposed sites,” city spokesperson Jodi Hardee said.