Adams County residents opposed to a multi-well pad in their neighborhood are appealing to the county commissioners to hold the oil and gas company to stricter standards that were approved by state regulators in November.
The appeal comes although the new oil and gas regulations don’t take effect until Jan. 15 and county regulators have already approved the project. The location of the well pad was approved in 2018 and the drilling permits were approved in November.
The upshot is that the 11 wells that Great Western Petroleum plans to drill soon in northwest Adams County fall under the old regulations. The new rules mandated by a 2019 law require, among other things, bigger distances between homes and wells, stricter air-quality monitoring and a look at the cumulative impacts of oil and gas development.
Great Western and Adams County officials have said the site’s plan includes air-quality monitoring and measures to reduce noise, odors and threats to nearby Big Dry Creek based on extensive collaboration and input from the county and area residents. But that hasn’t eased everyone’s concerns.
“It’s not fair. They haven’t started drilling, so why should they not follow the new rules that are in place?” asked Cassandra Andersen. “I’m not against oil. I’m against oil in neighborhoods.”
The house that she and her husband, Rob, bought in 2017 is about 1,300 feet from Great Western’s Ivey well pad, on the other side of 152nd Parkway. The new regulations that take effect later this month include 2,000-foot setbacks between new wells and homes and school.
The Andersens, who joined neighbors Sunday at a protest near the well pad, said they knew about existing wells when they put money down on their house, but not about the proposed drilling across the street
“With the new regulations coming in, others will have 2,000-foot setbacks, but not them. It’s just very unfair that they will have to live with the consequences of the old regulations,” said Christine Nyholm, a member of Adams County Communities for Drilling Accountability Now.
Nyholm has worked for a number of years with residents who don’t want drilling in the neighborhood, which includes an elementary school and daycare center. Great Western said those two buildings are more than 2,800 feet from the well site.
A public meeting held Tuesday by the Adams County commissioners was prompted by the request from Nyholm and others that the county assert its authority under Senate Bill 181 to require Great Western to comply with the new regulations. In addition to mandating an overhaul of state oil and gas regulations, the law gave local governments more authority to regulate oil and gas development.
The commissioners said the meeting was just to share information and no action would be taken. But they did hold a closed session with the county attorney to discuss legal questions about an agreement with Great Western.
The 2015 agreement between Adams County and the former owner of the Ivey site, later applied to Great Western, anticipated that state regulations might change, said attorney Joe Salazar, executive director of Colorado Rising. He wrote in a Dec.17 letter to the county that the agreement states if any provisions ultimately conflict with state law or rules, the stricter standards will apply.
The letter signed by five community organizations along the Front Range asks the county commissioners to halt the drilling “and begin the process to ensure that the strictest standards will be applied to this project.”
Salazar said Monday that he believes Great Western wanted to get the drilling permits approved before the new rules kick in.
Throughout the writing of the new regulations, community activists urged the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to halt approval of all permits until the new rules were in place. Oil and gas companies and some local governments voiced frustration with delays in permitting.
With thousands of permit applications pending, companies face the prospect of having to redo applications under the new regulations.
The COCCC took a temporary timeout on new permits to develop criteria meant to enforce the spirit of the new law while the rules were being written. The new law prioritizes protection of public health, safety and the environment when regulating oil and gas.
A proposed project would get closer scrutiny if it met any of the criteria, such as being in a city, a floodplain or within a certain distance of homes and schools. Great Western’s Ivey site checked some of the boxes, triggering more review.
Great Western has approached the Ivey site and other projects in anticipation of the new regulations, said Susan Fakharzadeh, a vice president with the Denver-based company.
“It certainly wasn’t something that we snuck in two months before the new rules came into effect. It’s something we’ve literally been working on for years,” Fakharzadeh said.