Protests of New Extraction Proposal Begin As Oil and Gas Chapter Is Approved

After six months of research and deliberation by the twelve members and two alternates on the Oil and Gas Comprehensive Plan Update Committee, City Council approved the addition of the Committee’s Oil and Gas Chapter to the Broomfield Comprehensive Plan at the September 26 meeting.  While Council recognized that work would need to continue on amendments to the Chapter and adoption of regulations, public comments at the meeting already indicated that the new Extraction proposal was quickly becoming another large focus of concern.

During public comments at the beginning of the meeting, seven Broomfield residents asked the City to stop fast-tracking the negotiations on the amended Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Extraction Oil and Gas.  Sarah Mann, who served on the Legal Subcommittee of the Oil and Gas Update Committee, reminded Council that there were thirty-plus pages of recommended ordinances put forward by the Committee as minimum standards.  She stated that some of the ordinances may “butt up against the State,” but added that, “We expected you to fight for us.”  She asked for the City to request rulemaking changes at the State level and to not allow an operator to work in the City if that company is unwilling to meet all of the Chapter standards.

Adams County residents impacted by the new Extraction proposal also raised their concerns during public comments.  Meg Townsend grew up in Broomfield but had just last week bought the home closest to one of the newly proposed Extraction pads right next to Adams County.  She questioned if, in negotiating moving the pads, Broomfield had unjustly prioritized the impact of the wells on potential Broomfield residential development over the impact on her existing home built in 1970 next door in Adams County.  Jennifer Gamble, president of Adams County Communities for Drilling Accountability Now (ACCDAN), read her letter that was addressed to the City.  It began, “The current Broomfield Extraction proposal to put 65 wells approximately 750 feet from neighborhoods in unincorporated Adams County makes it the most atrocious affront against Adams County residents of any current oil and gas project and yet Adams County and its residents have not been engaged by Broomfield on these plans.”  Adams County Commissioner Steve O’Dorisio called for the Staff of the regional entities to work together.  Oil and Gas Liaison Christopher LaMere requested a pause in the Extraction negotiations until Adams County could be fully included.

Some of the objections of the Adams County residents had already been anticipated during a quickly scheduled Update Committee meeting on Monday, September 25.  The Chapter’s setback regulations had allowed Extraction to claim that their new proposal was following the regulations while at the same time placing multiple pads very close to some homes.  The language added to the Chapter on Monday evening to address this was:  “If one or more occupied building(s) is outside the Buffer Zone of two or more well pads and the combined number of wells for such pads would place the well pads in a higher level Buffer Zone, then for these occupied building(s) the multiple well pads shall be treated as if the well pads are combined and shall be required to meet the higher Buffer Zone level based upon the number of wells on all well pads.”  On Monday evening, Extraction Vice President Eric Jacobsen had interrupted the meeting with an objection that the Update Committee was changing the rules, while Update Committee members reminded him that nothing was adopted at that point.  It remains to be seen if Extraction will try to adjust their new proposal based on this addition to the setback rules.

Special Counsel Tami Yellico of Broomfield pointed out this setback addition to the Chapter as part of the Tuesday evening Staff presentation on the Chapter at Council.  She also said that the City was now looking at how to go forward with ordinances based on the recommendations.  A City Assessor was also now tracking certain neighborhoods to follow the length of time that houses were on the market and sale prices.  Update Committee Member Tom Yeager stated that impacts on property values were still being studied and that Council should expect to have possible amendments for it later.

During citizen comments on the Chapter, Mark Matthews, Outside Counsel of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA), stated that, “We are concerned that the Task Force recommendations conflict with state law.”  In response to that later, Mayor Ahrens addressed Mr. Matthews by name in pointing out that some of the State laws were antiquated and that the City was looking into various venues to change them.  Also during citizen comments, six Broomfield residents echoed Mr. Matthews’ talking points, referring to “onerous language” in the Chapter that should not be put into regulations.  In contrast, Suzanne Kent joined six other Broomfield residents in encouraging Council to ignore the oil and gas industry’s objections and go forward with its pledge to protect the health and safety of its citizens.

During Council comments and questions, many Council members applauded the work of the Update Committee, City Staff, and citizens who provided input in the background.  Council Member Kevin Kreeger listed about a dozen items that he had brought up at the August 29 Study Session but had not been addressed in the final document.  Some were as simple as changing “Colorado University” to “University of Colorado,” but others were more substantive, like a proposal to have Broomfield buy its own Commission Air Monitoring Environmental Laboratory (CAMEL) for air quality monitoring.  In the end, Council approved the Chapter by a vote of 9-1, with Council Member Kreeger stating his “no” vote was in no way meant to detract from the great work of the Update Committee.

There was no estimated date given for review of likely property value amendments to the Chapter.  At the next Council meeting on October 10, the new Extraction proposal will likely have its first hearing.