The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has upheld a $26,000 fine against a company that found itself at odds with U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, after the congressman complained about its drilling activities on property near his weekend retreat in Weld County.
The fine against Sundance Energy was proposed as far back as Aug. 16, but the commission didn't formally vote to uphold the penalty until its meeting of Dec. 16.
It passed without comment by either party involved in the case, according to Department of Natural Resources spokesman Todd Hartman.
The Polis-Sundance controversy erupted last July, when Polis, a Democrat who represents Colorado's 2nd Congressional District, discovered that a drilling operation had sprung up virtually overnight on his neighbor's property at Weld County Roads 5 and 42, east of Berthoud.
Polis's first response to fears that his rural 50-acre retreat was about to be a neighbor to hydraulic fracturing was to file a lawsuit against Denver-based Sundance Energy in Denver District Court.
Polis quickly withdrew that suit, however, and pursued a complaint filed directly to the state regulatory commission.
Visits to the contested drilling site by a COGCC inspector found that the first of three wells dug at the property constituted a violation of the state's setback rule, requiring wells to be no less than 1.5 times the total rig height away from the closest power line or road.
According to Hartman, the notice alleged that the company "violated setback distances from two county roads and an overhead power line. The setback infringement is related to the height of the drilling rig the operator used." The state also alleged that Sundance reported inaccurate setback distances on its application for permit to drill.
In the Aug. 16 notice to Sundance of its alleged violation, the company was ordered to relocate the surface locations of two wells to comply with the state's minimum-setback rules, meet with Polis to discuss mitigation efforts, and submit a "root cause analysis" of the violations to the state along with a plan to ensure that future data submitted to COGCC is accurate.
At that meeting, which took place Aug. 23, Sundance committed to follow a series of "best management practices," according to state records, and also to plant trees this spring as a visual barrier around two sides of the property.
In an emailed statement Friday, Polis said, "While I am thrilled that the violation was penalized to the extent possible under the law for a well that was illegally drilled, the relatively small penalty that the current law allows shows why we need to change our laws so that bad actors have a real incentive to follow the law. We need protections for homeowners and real mechanisms for enforcing those protections."
He added, "If your neighbor builds a fence on your property where it's not allowed, they have to take it down, but as I learned firsthand, frackers are allowed to produce from wells even if they are illegally drilled."
Sundance Energy CEO Eric McCrady stated in an email Friday that the company "did not protest or appeal the fine."
Contact Camera Staff Writer Charlie Brennan at 303-473-1327 or email@example.com.