All is Not Calm

While visions of sugar plums may be dancing through the dreams of some lucky people, residents of Anthem Highlands, Anthem Ranch, Wildgrass, and many in unincorporated Adams County near the Northwest pad have been wide awake for several nights from the noise of unconventional oil and gas extraction in our neighborhoods. In my own home 1 mile away from the Livingston pad with my window open, on several occasions over the past week, we registered consistent noise streams around and sometimes over 75 dB. My next-door neighbor described the noise as a jet engine. Another neighbor, Matt David, described it as “living near the railroad tracks but at least the train only lasted five minutes.” My friend and neighbor Cristen Logan was awake at 1am, recording audio of what sounds like a freight train running by her house. She also lives nearly a mile away from the Livingston pad. A handful of residents living near the Northwest pad report similar sounds of a “freight train” at 4 am, waking them up. All of us filed noise complaints with the city of Broomfield; some of us have filed numerous complaints.

In fact, the city staff is so overwhelmed by the huge amount of complaints that they can no longer follow protocol and address each constituent’s concerns. In a statement on 12/20/2019, the city issued a newsflash that stated: “Due to the influx of noise concerns that have been received via the online Oil and Gas Concern Form over the last several weeks, Broomfield Oil and Gas staff have been unable to issue direct responses to all individual concerns.  Consequently, this notice is intended to serve as a collective response to thank all of you for making us aware of your noise concerns in relation to oil and gas development.” The system, it appears, was not designed for this volume of complaints.

It’s clear that at least a select few council members, Mayor Pat Quinn, and staff from the CCOB are making their best efforts. Council Members Jean Lim, Laurie Anderson, and Mayor Quinn have been permanent fixtures at the city building over the past several days, advocating for their constituents to make sure that action is taken. Councilperson Anderson told me that she understood it wasn’t just the loud noise that was impactful but that it was keeping people awake and causing anxiety. Thanks to the efforts of our elected officials, Jennifer Hoffman, the Broomfield City and County Manager, wrote a letter to the COGCC on 12/20/2019 to ask that Extraction be held to operational hours of 7 am to 10 pm to limit the impact on residents. In fact, we got word on 12/23/2019 that Extraction will be shutting down operations on 12/24 and 12/25, but they will not agree to limit their operations to the hours the city is requesting. For me and my family, this is a small consolation, though any movement of the needle feels like a Christmas miracle.

Screenshot of decibel readings 9:20 pm 12/17/2019

Let’s be clear: just like the chemical exposures my family experienced in July were not mere “odors,” these also are not just “noises.” When the sound spikes, you can feel it in your bones. It’s a full-body vibration. Even with earplugs in, I hear and feel the sound all around me. It’s a very uncomfortable and agitating experience. There is always a dull roar in the background. Even now I can hear it, like a howling wind outside, but there is no wind — it’s perfectly still. Many neighbors and friends in the area are experiencing a similar agitation and sleeplessness. It doesn’t take long for bouts of sleeplessness and agitation like this to take a toll on mental health. It’s unreasonable to expect people to live like this in our homes, our most sacred spaces.

This is not a new problem. In fact, Broomfield recently notified Extraction Oil and Gas, the operator running the nearby well pads, that they are currently in breach of contract due to verified noise levels exceeding what was agreed upon in the contract. Looking at the city’s website where citizens log complaints, it’s easy to see that the problem is getting worse before it’s getting better. In a letter to residents on 12/12/2019 from the City and County of Broomfield, city staff state, “With the measured sound levels and high number of citizen complaints, the City and County of Broomfield (CCOB) is pursuing action, to the fullest extent possible, to cause Extraction to reduce the noise emanating from its sites to levels that comply with the sound maximums set forth in the Operator Agreement and the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC). The enforcement efforts seek to end the exceedances as soon as possible.” I can personally attest to the fact that the noise has been increasing and getting worse since 12/12/2019. Jennifer Hoffman expressed that “We hear you, we acknowledge the impact and we are taking the steps to pursue all legal options to keep our community safe. Our residents are enduring continuous impacts which now includes disturbing noise, sometimes in the middle of the night. Immediate action is necessary.”

This disconnect between what the city wants to do and what the city is actually able to do points to the insurmountable task of actually enforcing regulations on an operation like this and negating negative impacts to residents. Broomfield City Councils of the past, most notably the council members and Mayor Ahrens who approved the MOU and allowed Extraction to set up shop, thought the answer was to regulate. Best Management Practices (BMPs), closed-loop systems, this and that new fan-dangled toy or technology– we were told “everything will be fine.” Most of us knew that this wasn’t the answer– that once you green light an operation like this in neighborhoods, what will follow are countless health and safety impacts both short- and long-term. In fact, an overwhelming majority of Broomfield knew this, and it’s exactly why we passed 301 in 2017 to amend our charter and protect our health and safety in the face of the power of the oil and gas operators. In fact, 301 was intended to give power to the city– the exact power they need right now to shut down operations at night and curb the noise. SB-181’s passing gives even more leverage to local governments to protect the health and safety of residents. This breach of contract is a test of the “regulation” enforcement mechanism. Now that Broomfield is willing to appeal our requests to the state level, will those at the state level listen?

My heart breaks for our community members who are most impacted by these operations. Those of us who do choose to speak out are often gas-lighted and called liars in public forums. It’s hard for those in the broader community to believe that people are living like this– the noise, the smells, the chemical exposures, the health effects. I’m proud of my neighbors and my community for speaking out and demanding action. I imagine a day when I can worry about what’s for dinner instead of which toxic, unregistered chemical my children are being exposed to. That’s my Christmas wish: a neighborhood free of industrial operations that negatively impact my neighbors, my friends, and my family. A silent night, the sound of sleigh bells when all is calm and all is bright.