THORNTON — A new wave of oil and gas wells proposed for the northern suburbs — around 70 at three sites close to neighborhoods in and around Thornton — brought out more than 200 residents to a public meeting Thursday night.
People lobbed questions at public officials about the state of abandoned wells in Adams County and asked what cities and the county do with the severance tax they collect from oil and gas operations. Several others sought details on a November rollover of an oil tanker truck on Riverdale Road, during which several hundred gallons of crude oil spilled into an irrigation ditch.
Another resident asked about waste fluid disposal wells for oil and gas operations that have been blamed for causing earthquakes in Oklahoma and other states.
“This is a very important issue that has tremendous impact,” Norman Wright, director of community and economic development for Adams County, said in an interview before the meeting.
Wright was one of several public officials who answered pointed questions from residents Thursday at Rocky Top Middle School in Thornton, which was just the latest community gathering in the north metro area to deal with increasing concerns about ever encroaching energy extraction operations near homes, which have increased in frequency and intensity as the metro area has grown and the population has spiked.
Last week, nearly 600 Broomfield residents gathered at City Hall to weigh in on a proposed moratorium on new oil and gas operations in the county. The City Council delayed making a decision on the issue until next month. In November, residents living near where a company has proposed drilling 22 wells sued the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, claiming that the state agency failed to follow its own rules to protect neighborhoods.
“This meeting speaks to the fact that there’s a high level of concern,” said Jennifer Gamble, head of the Adams County Communities for Drilling Accountability Now.
The group was one of several community organizations that hosted Thursday’s meeting, which focused on three proposed drilling operations — the Ivey site at 152nd Avenue and York Street, the Todd Creek Farm site at 150th Avenue and Hanover Street and the Ocho site at Colorado 7 and Holly Street.
Together they could bring online nearly 70 additional wells within thousands of feet of existing homes.
“We’re talking about big stuff here,” said Dave Ellison, a resident who spoke at the meeting on behalf of ACCDAN. “We’re in an urban area — make no mistake about it.”
That means truck traffic, emissions and potential spills are major worries for his neighbors who live around well pads. Gamble said her group is trying to make sure drilling applications are put through a public hearing before the county issues permits to oil and gas companies.
“We think the public should have a voice in the process,” she said.
Adams County passed rules in March that call for site-specific reviews of drilling applications and impose certain conditions on extraction activity when it comes to fencing and visibility of equipment, as well as impacts on roads and traffic. It also hired its first oil and gas liaison last summer.
“We have designed the local policies to maximize our ability to regulate for land-use compatibility,” Wright said. “We’re going to do our best to capitalize on our local authority to reduce impacts to the community the best we can.”
But he explained at the meeting that local governments are severely limited in what they can do, given the fact that oil and gas activity is regulated at the state level. That hierarchy was further affirmed by the state Supreme Court last year, when it overturned Fort Collins’ five-year moratorium on fracking within city limits while also rejecting Longmont’s 2012 ban on fracking because it “materially impedes” use of state power.
Adams County had 961 active oil and gas wells in 2016, according to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. That compares with more than 23,000 wells in neighboring Weld County, which easily leads the state in oil and gas development.
-John Aguilar, The Denver Post