First Oil and Gas Community Conversation Draws Citizens with Many Concerns

On March 16, 2018, Broomfield held its first Oil and Gas Community Conversation with citizens.  The City and County Council Chamber was nearly full.  Mayor Ahrens and Mayor Pro Tem Bette Erickson were the hosts for this community meeting, which lasted from 5:15 pm until a bit after 6:15 pm. Broomfield City Council members in attendance were: Sharon Tessier, Liz Law-Evans, Kevin Kreeger, Kim Groom, David Beacom and Guyleen Castriotta.  City and County of Broomfield staff  also attended and answered some questions.

At the beginning of the meeting, Mayor Ahrens announced that new State COGCC Director Julie Murphy told him at the City’s March 13 meeting that the COGCC would be “pushing off” Extraction Form 2 and 2A drilling permits until the June hearing after listening to the City’s comments.  As a side note, the June hearings are scheduled for an away TBD location, not Denver.  When that was mentioned privately to Mayor Ahrens, he felt confident that would be rectified.

Citizens were encouraged to limit their speaking time to about two minutes, and Council members were limited to a shorter time in order to allow more participation.

A wide variety of questions ranged from what citizens should do about letters regarding leasing  their mineral rights, to concern about the town of Erie being obscured by a brown cloud.  Other citizens expressed concerns about earthquakes in Oklahoma related to injection wells and what was happening with Extraction’s Comprehensive Drilling Plan.

Broomfield’s inspections of oil and gas sites were discussed at length.  Citizens wanted to know how often well sites are inspected and how quickly repairs are made when a leak or spill is discovered. Citizens were told that most needed repairs are made quickly.

Citizens learned that the City inspects each well twice per year and additional inspections are done, as needed, using infrared cameras.  The inspectors follow up with the operator if needed.  The City staff stated they will soon start doing 3 inspections per year.  Mayor Ahrens said that the City needs data and baseline information.

Council Member Kevin Kreeger asked Public Health and Environment Director Jason Vahling to report the number of leaks per well and per site.  Mr. Vahling stated that in 2015 there were 21 leaks from a total of 38 wells.  In 2016, 16% of the wells leaked and in 2017, 39% of the wells had leaks.  These are all older vertical wells.   Ed Pottorff stated that 70%-80% of the leaks are fixed at the time of the onsite visit and that most of the leaks are small. “Leaks” and “spills” are lumped together but the term “leaks” pertains to  gas and “spills” to oil.  The City is trying to enhance their inspection program and the City is getting proposals for air quality monitoring in the next 45 days.

In a light moment, Mayor Ahrens asked if anyone knew when the first well was drilled in Broomfield.  Council Member Castriotta had the correct answer of 1994.

Resident Charlie Lim brought up his concerns that so far there is no known cause of the explosion, fire and spill that occurred on Extraction’s Stromberger site near Windsor, Colorado.  Mr. Lim asked if the City is ready to push the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to deny Extractions’ Form 2 and 2A drilling applications until there is a known cause.  Also, Mr. Lim asked if the City of Broomfield will amend the MOU when the cause of the drilling mud spill in Berthod is known, which is also related to Extraction’s drilling activities.

Council Member Bette Erickson said she also shares Mr. Lim’s concerns and doesn’t want oil and gas near homes.  Other than the comment from Council Member Erickson, there was not a direct answer  to Mr. Lim’s questions.  Mayor Ahrens stated that the City Council and he are “doing the best they can and are trying to do better.”

Resident Cristen Logan raised her concerns about the search for a new City and County attorney.  Citizens were told by Council Member Groom that the search had narrowed the applicants down to two people and the Mayor said that Council might decide through a vote on Tuesday, March 20, 2018.  There was discussion about what qualifications the applicants possess.  Residents were told that most of the search is confidential. Names cannot be given but the City might be able to reveal criteria for candidate qualifications.

Council Member Law-Evans stated that the city has contracted with several attorneys with oil and gas experience.  Law-Evans, in another statement, said “the City cannot unilaterally amend the MOU because it is not legislation but an agreement with Extraction Oil and Gas.”  She continued by saying, “we’ve taken a very poor negotiating position and parlayed it into a very solid MOU,” qualifying her statement with “although no deal is ever perfect.” Lastly, she stated that “we are discussing, and this is something we cannot talk about at this time, possibilities of when do we sue, when do we try to force compliance.”

Council Member Kreger stated that he is concerned about spills, leaks and explosions.  He spoke about not knowing what caused the Windsor explosion and quoted COGCC Director Lepore’s comment that “they can’t prevent mistakes.”  Council Member Kreeger stated that Broomfield has 3 options regarding oil and gas:

1) We can wait for the State of Colorado to make better rules,

2) We can negotiate with the oil and gas companies, and

3) We can sue.

He went on to say that we need to vote for a new governor who will change the COGCC leadership and noted that citizens will be voting for State Senator in 2020.  He stated that locally, the City should not approve more wells until Extraction and other operators can prove that drilling is safe under the requirements of Charter Amendment 301.  Council Member Kreeger also stated that in the past the Council has had options which it chose to not employ.

Council Member Sharon Tessier said it is important to do soil and water monitoring and look at oil and gas operations from a health perspective.  She thinks there are big disparities between what the Broomfield City attorneys are telling them and what they are hearing from residents, in the form of legal opinions. Council Member Tessier said that she feels that they need to convene a meeting of all attorneys and let them decide which direction the City should go.

Council Member David Beacom told the audience that the reason for negotiations was because State law was stacked against Broomfield, in conjunction with the transference of the previous MOU of Sovereign to Extraction.  He said that the new MOU was stronger and “if we didn’t have the MOU, then Extraction would be drilling now.” He said that “residents raised heck and got the COGCC’s attention.  Broomfield needs for the State to change its oil and gas laws.”

Mayor Ahrens asked for a show of hands at the end to express whether citizens in attendance thought the conversation was worthwhile, and a huge majority of hands were raised. Originally, it was stated that this conversation might occur biweekly, but it is not yet on the City calendar for March 30.

To watch the entire conversation, please view it here.