U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Boulder
U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Boulder (Courtesy photo)

The state agency that regulates oil and gas extraction in Colorado has ruled that the company that started drilling earlier this month near the Weld County property of U.S. Rep. Jared Polis may have placed its rig too close to a road and a power line.

The possible violation by Denver-based Sundance Energy Inc. of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission's setback rules remains under investigation.

"It's too soon to know the outcome of the alleged violation of our setback rule, but violations always have the potential to result in an enforcement action, and those actions can include a fine," Todd Hartman, a spokesman for the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, said in an email.

Sundance Energy did not respond to requests for comment.

The drilling activity at the rural Weld County weekend getaway of Polis, a Democrat who represents Boulder and the rest of Colorado's 2nd Congressional District, came to light last week when Polis said he had joined the list of those whose quality of life was under attack due to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

Polis reported -- initially by way of a guest opinion piece written for Sunday's Daily Camera -- that heavy equipment appeared July 18 directly across the street from his 50-acre retreat on Weld County Road 5, just east of Berthoud. A drilling operation quickly followed, soon manifest by a tall rig on his neighbor's property, which Polis estimated loomed less than 100 feet from his own guesthouse and garage.

Polis filed a complaint in Denver District Court on July 22 seeking a temporary restraining order to halt the drilling. But he withdrew that complaint Friday, leaving open the option of re-filing it after he gathers more information on Sundance Energy's operation.

On-site inspection

However, separately from his aborted court action, Polis also had filed a complaint about the drilling with the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, which sent an inspector to the Weld County operation last Wednesday and Thursday.

In his email, Department of Natural Resources spokesman Hartman said the inspector did not identify any odors, and that a noise survey couldn't be completed due to windy conditions.

However, Hartman said, "While investigating the complaint, the inspector discovered what appeared to be a violation of our setback rule. The well was believed to be less than 1.5 times the total rig height away from a power line and road, as COGCC setback rules require."

Hartman added, "The operator was informed of this, and instructed it must move the planned location of two other wells to conform to the setback requirement and get COGCC approval for the new locations."

The Sundance Energy permit applications to the state for the land across from Polis's property showed plans for three wells drilled to setting depths of 7,565 feet to 7,820 feet.

Hartman said that because the existing well was at the planned depth and drilling already is completed, the commission is not requiring Sundance Energy to plug and abandon it. Sundance Energy is voluntarily taking steps for noise reduction, including installation of a noise wall and sound curtains, he added.

Also, Hartman said, "We continue to communicate with Rep. Polis' attorneys on this matter."

'Violations of law'

Polis, in an email discussing the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission inspection, said the company "grossly mischaracterized the facts" when it claimed last week that he had dropped his lawsuit because his claims were completely without merit.

And, Polis wrote, "We have reasons to believe Sundance was aware or should have been aware of its material violations of law," and said his own independent surveyor found "the same violations as the state inspectors," citing both the location and the height of the derrick.

"We hope that the penalties imposed by the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission are significant enough to deter other companies from violating the law and are not just a symbolic cost of doing business," Polis stated.

"I am concerned that I had to hire lawyers and file a complaint with the COGCC to uncover these violations," he added. "Homeowners should not have to hire surveyors and lawyers at their own expense to defend their neighborhood from illegal fracking."

Contact Camera Staff Writer Charlie Brennan at 303-473-1327 or brennanc@dailycamera.com.