Frustrated with “limited toolkit,” Broomfield considers 6-month fracking moratorium

Frustrated with “limited toolkit,” Broomfield considers 6-month fracking moratorium

In a packed and emotional meeting Tuesday night, Broomfield City Council took the first step toward approving two ordinances to increase its control over fracking and drilling, including a temporary moratorium on new drilling projects.

Council members were upfront about the city’s limited control over drilling activity. Last May, the Colorado Supreme Court struck down long-term fracking bans in Fort Collins and Longmont, ruling that state law trumps local governments when it comes to regulating or prohibiting oil and gas activity.

“We just don’t have that many tools in the toolkit,” said council member Elizabeth Law-Evans. “We turned over the toolbox, and not much fell out.”

Still, the Council is ready to pursue all available options. The first ordinance would require Broomfield’s approval for the sale or transfer of any city- or county-owned property, including easements, water rights and mineral interests. The second would impose a six-month temporary moratorium on the approval of new fracking permits so that Broomfield can review and potentially strengthen its existing land use regulations.

Both the meeting room and an overflow lobby were packed with residents, most wearing stickers for community advocacy group Anthem Clean Air & Water. The crowd was highly reactive, applauding statements they approved and booing those they didn’t.

Broomfield residents filled an overflow lobby at a City Council meeting, Dec. 6, 2016

Broomfield residents filled an overflow lobby at a City Council meeting, Dec. 6, 2016

More than a dozen Broomfield homeowners spoke out against what they see as the unfair and unreasonable fracking of their neighborhoods, which has ramped up in recent months. One homeowner even cried as he described finding his dream home — with a dream view — and now feeling as though he has to move away to protect his children from oil and gas pollution.

Residents of Broomfield’s Wildgrass neighborhood recently learned Extraction Oil & Gas company will soon drill 140 horizontal wells near their homes. The wells will extend deep under the neighborhood to extract the valuable fossil fuels below. New horizontal drilling technologies have made previously unthinkable large-scale residential drilling projects not jut possible, but increasingly commonplace. 

Though the homeowners in Wildgrass own their mineral rights and a majority do not want to lease them, Extraction can use what’s called a “forced pooling order” to extract them anyway. A long as one homeowner agrees to lease their minerals, forced pooling can require everyone else to follow suit.

RELATED:  FORCED POOLING IS NOT MANDATORY SWIM PRACTICE

“This isn’t just about mineral rights, this is about citizens not wanting to coexist with some 140 wells in their backyards, near schools and near the reservoir,” said one resident.

Another called Extraction “devious and opportunistic,” referencing the fact that the company’s original plan to drill 40 wells in Wildgrass had ballooned into 140 wells. “I don’t trust the industry,” she said.

Anne Carto, community outreach manager for the Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA), expressed concern about the moratorium, saying it would hinder economic activity and deny mineral owners access to their property rights. “Rather than singling out the oil and gas industry by halting development,” she said, “I hope you will let COGA and industry members come to the table and work through your community’s unique concerns.”

The crowd booed loudly.

Because the state Supreme Court didn’t explicitly prohibit temporary moratoria, both residents and the Council sounded hopeful about their ability to implement a ban on new drilling proposals until June. Several residents also suggested other regulatory options that could be within Broomfield’s power, such as imposing weight limits on roads to limit truck traffic or requiring increased financial assurances to guard against potential environmental damages.

The City Council voted unanimously for the proposed moratorium and 8 to 1 for the property rights ordinance. Both are scheduled to come up for a second reading at a Jan. 10 meeting. Council members acknowledged that new drilling technologies have increased the size and scope of neighborhood drilling projects beyond reasonable expectations. They agreed to consider other options at their disposal, like traffic fees and higher bond requirements.

In a statement, Extraction spokesman Brian Cain called the hearing “part of an ongoing process” and said the company’s plan addresses residents’ concerns, “including minimizing noise, emissions and traffic otherwise associated with oil and gas development.” He said Extraction has a “commitment to continuous improvement in how we develop and operate as a community partner.”

Council member Sharon Tessier, who said she has responded to more than 200 emails from concerned residents, agreed that she felt “very duped” by Extraction Oil & Gas, calling their shift from 40 to 140 wells “unacceptable.” She then assured the community that she would work for their interests. “Our voices are louder in numbers,” she said. “We don’t have a lot of control, but that doesn’t mean we can’t get it.”

City Council also discussed the possibility of a future town hall-style meeting devoted to the issue.  

In the meantime, the council urged residents to write to their senators, representatives and Governor John Hickenlooper to demand that they make health and safety a priority.

“They have a great big toolbox,” Law-Evans said.

Photo credit: royalty free, Creative Commons, Flickr 

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Kelsey Ray

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