A pipe will be laid underground to distribute oil more efficiently than the current practice of trucking it to it's destination. Arapahoe Responsible Energy Advocates (AREA) was formed last fall to educate residents on the benefits of fracking and what state regulations exist to make it safe. (Marla R. Keown/Aurora Sentinel)

AURORA | With a proposal to frack near the Aurora Reservoir pending, a majority of Arapahoe County commissioners rejected a suggestion by county staffers to stop accepting applications for new oil and drilling for six months while new regulations are drafted.

Commissioners voted 3-2 to turn down the moratorium Tuesday, with those who voted against the pause arguing that the county could effectively regulate oil and gas, and continue to develop regulations without blocking new applications.

Commissioner Bill Holen, who voted against the moratorium, said he still believed in the need for society to back away from its reliance on fossil fuels.

“But it cannot be accomplished overnight,” he said. “We cannot snap our fingers and all of the sudden everybody has some form of alternative energy. … We’re going to be dependent on gas and oil for the next couple of decades. It’s a reality.”

Supporters of the moratorium, including representatives of Save the Aurora Reservoir, focused on the alleged threat to public safety posed by the Lowry Ranch fracking project proposed by Civitas.

The project would see as many as 174 wells drilled more than a mile underground at 12 sites near the Aurora Reservoir and Aurora homes. Some of the horizontal well-bores are planned to extend beneath the reservoir itself, though project sponsors said the depth would be more than enough to shield the reservoir in the event of a spill.

One well pad is slated to be roughly a quarter-mile from the reservoir, and Civitas plans indicate the pads will be no closer than 2,000 feet to homes, which is the minimum setback under state law.

Nancy Wurzman, a representative of Save the Aurora Reservoir, suggested that Civitas was trying to hurry its plans for the Lowry Ranch project through the approval process to avoid having to comply with new regulations being advanced by Gov. Jared Polis regarding nitrogen oxide emissions.

Civitas said it was willing to hold off on submitting permit applications for six months while the county considered new regulations.

Wurzman urged commissioners to vote “yes” on the moratorium, which she said would give the county time to independently assess the potential environmental impacts of the project.

“You should not let us become collateral damage for their profits,” she said. “Once this is started, there are no do-overs.”

Commissioner Jessica Campbell-Swanson, who voted in favor of the moratorium, argued that the commission should respect the concerns of citizens who wanted the county to at least hold off on accepting applications for oil and gas projects.

“It is vacuous and condescending for us to say, ‘Thank you for being here, but we’re not really going to listen to you,’” Campbell-Swanson said.

Supporters of Civitas also spoke during the public hearing that preceded the vote to say the company cares about public safety, using pipelines, pressurized vessels and other technology to avoid releasing petroleum products into the environment.

“Our facilities are layered with redundancies to ensure the emissions do not make it to our air monitors,” said Kathy Steerman, director of air programs for Civitas. “We are fully committed to producing the cleanest product.”

Steerman said well pads would be surrounded by devices capable of detecting volatile organic compounds and that Civitas staffers are also trained in the use of technology to find leaks.

Commissioner Carrie described the county and state’s progress toward more stringent oil and gas regulations over time as she explained why she felt a moratorium was unnecessary, saying it would not stop the county from crafting better rules.

“We’ve made great strides in protecting the health and safety of our residents and our environment,” she said. “This is the time for us to put Arapahoe County in a position to have the strongest local oil and gas regulations in the state and possibly the nation.”

Ultimately, Campbell-Swanson and Leslie Summey voted for the moratorium, while Jeff Baker, Holen and Warren-Gully voted against it.

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