Com­merce City faces prospect of nearly 200 new wells

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Ju­dith Kohler

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.

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