Plans to drill un­der lake abruptly dropped

Per­mits were for 28 wells un­der Stan­d­ley Lake, nearby dog park

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By John Aguilar

An oil and gas com­pany that re­cently ap­plied to the state to drill 14 wells that would ex­tend un­der­neath Stan­d­ley Lake in West­min­ster, which pro­vides drink­ing wa­ter to 300,000 peo­ple, with­drew its ap­pli­ca­tion Thurs­day amid ris­ing out­cry over the pro­posal.

High­lands Nat­u­ral Re­sources Corp. also dropped its ap­pli­ca­tion for 14 pro­posed wells un­der the nearby 420-acre West­min­ster Hills Off-Leash Dog Park, which is just north of the lake.

“Through the process of com­mu­ni­cat­ing with var­i­ous stake­hold­ers and upon fur­ther con­sid­er­a­tion of its devel­op­ment plans in Jef­fer­son County, High­lands Nat­u­ral Re­sources has with­drawn” its ap­pli­ca­tions for all 28 wells near Stan­d­ley Lake, High­lands CEO and chair­man Robert Price said in a state­ment sent to The Den­ver Post on Thurs­day af­ter­noon.

He said the with­drawals were ef­fec­tive for the “fore­see­able fu­ture.”

The de­ci­sion came just hours af­ter The

Den­ver Post pub­lished a story on­line about High­lands’ plans.

High­lands’ plans to drill up to 31 wells near the for­mer Rocky Flats nu­clear weapons plant, sub­mit­ted with the Col­orado Oil and Gas Con­ser­va­tion Com­mis­sion on Oct. 18, are not af­fected by Thurs­day’s an­nounce­ment.

The with­drawal an­nounce­ment came as pub­lic com­ments be­gan to pour in to the COGCC lam­bast­ing the com­pany’s plans.

“NO No NO No No NO No NO !!!!! ,” wrote one res­i­dent on the COGCC site. “This is pub­lic open space set aside for peace and pub­lic use. Plus ev­ery home … is on a well that works with wa­ter aquifers that would be con­nected to the drilling. NO WAY!”

Be­fore the with­drawals were an­nounced, West­min­ster Mayor Herb Atchi­son said the city was “scram­bling” to come up with a plan to deal with the sit­u­a­tion.

“We’re try­ing to fig­ure out what kind of au­thor­ity we have,” Atchi­son told The Post. “What rights do we have?”

The mayor said West­min­ster’s main con­cern is pro­tect­ing 1,063-acre Stan­d­ley Lake, which ranks as the metro area’s third-largest reser­voir. Aside from pro­vid­ing most of West­min­ster with drink­ing wa­ter, Stan­d­ley Lake holds wa­ter for Thorn­ton and North­glenn.

“First and fore­most is to pro­tect the wa­ter for the city,” Atchi­son said.

On its web­site, West­min­ster said it “will al­ways work to pro­tect the in­ter­ests of its cit­i­zens, its wa­ter sup­plies and open spa­ces.” But it also noted that the COGCC has the ex­clu­sive au­thor­ity for re­view­ing and ap­prov­ing per­mit ap­pli­ca­tions, “not the City of West- min­ster.”

Com­mu­nity af­ter com­mu­nity in Col­orado that has tried to put re­stric­tions on drilling within its borders has found it­self at the los­ing end of court bat­tles, with judges con­sis­tently rul­ing that oil and gas devel­op­ment is the ex­clu­sive purview of the state. In 2016, the Col­orado Supreme Court struck down frack­ing bans in Long­mont and Fort Collins, con­clud­ing that cities and coun­ties do not have the au­thor­ity to stop drilling.

The pro­posed wells in West­min­ster bucked a trend of oil and gas com­pa­nies drilling pri­mar­ily on the east side of the Den­ver metro area and high­light the high ten­sions that have arisen in the last few years be­tween an in­dus­try ea­ger to ac­cess valu­able min­er­als and the neigh­bor­hoods atop some of those re­sources.

En­ergy op­er­a­tors have been sub­mit­ting ap­pli­ca­tions to the COGCC for new wells at a fu­ri­ous pace in re­cent weeks, es­pe­cially as the specter of a bal­lot is­sue that would se­verely re­strict drilling loomed. That mea­sure, Propo­si­tion 112, was de­feated by more than 10 per­cent­age points Tues­day.

Tom and Sandi Ross­man, who were walk­ing their Alaskan husky, Rowdy, at the lake Thurs­day, said they just moved from Crested Butte to Ar­vada’s Can­de­las neigh­bor­hood west of Stan­d­ley Lake a week ago.

They weren’t happy about the news that they might be look­ing out over a drilling rig and a mul­ti­well pad in the next few weeks. In its ap­pli­ca­tion to the state, High­lands said it wanted to be­gin drilling next to the lake on Dec. 17.

“You just see the sprawl­ing lake in its nat­u­ral beauty, and this would de­tract from that,” Tom Ross­man said. “It would be aw­ful.”

The ap­pli­ca­tions for the lake and dog park sites were sub­mit­ted dur­ing a tu­mul­tuous week lead­ing up to Tues­day’s midterm elec­tion, in which vot­ers were asked whether they wanted set­backs for new oil and gas wells ex­tended to nearly half a mile from build­ings and wa­ter sources. Pro­po­nents of big­ger set­backs say they are nec­es­sary to pro­tect peo­ple from nox­ious emis­sions as­so­ci­ated with drilling and frack­ing and to keep wa­ter sources from be­ing con­tam­i­nated.

Stan­d­ley Lake reaches a max­i­mum depth of 96 feet at its dam. It’s not clear how deep High­lands would have drilled its hor­i­zon­tal wells un­der the lake, but typ­i­cally oil and gas wells go thou­sands of feet un­der­ground.

He­len H. Richard­son, The Den­ver Post

Richard Tafoya fishes Thurs­day at scenic Stan­d­ley Lake in West­min­ster. High­lands Nat­u­ral Re­sources Corp. sub­mit­ted ap­pli­ca­tions to drill 14 wells that would ex­tend un­der­neath the lake — which pro­vides drink­ing wa­ter to 300,000 peo­ple in the metro area. The com­pany de­cided Thurs­day af­ter­noon to with­draw its ap­pli­ca­tions to drill amid pub­lic out­cry.

He­len H. Richard­son, The Den­ver Post

Noelle Smith does wind sprints up stairs at scenic Stan­d­ley Lake in West­min­ster on Thurs­day.

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