AURORA | Oil and gas companies would be allowed to build taller vapor towers under potential amendments to Aurora’s oil and gas laws that are being proposed to put the city on the same page as state requirements. Those amendments could also include requiring buildings to be 500 feet away from an oil well versus the 350-foot municipal requirement created in 2012.
“Setbacks in case law says it’s a matter of state jurisdiction … The state has since then increased that to 500 feet,” said Jim Sayre, a manager with the city’s planning department at a Planning, Economic Development and Redevelopment Policy Committee meeting Wednesday. “Since it is a matter of state jurisdiction, we’re going to take our number out and just simply refer to state regulations. We found that in our own regulations, we’re continually trying to catch up to state regulations.”
Other potential changes include no longer requiring oil and gas companies to obtain building permits, and allowing companies to install 31-foot vapor towers. Right now, city regulations only allow companies to build well pad facilities as high as 20 feet.
Sayre said the vapor towers are part of new technology that has been created in response to meeting the Colorado Department of Health and Environment’s more stringent air quality measures.
The city has received 10 applications to drill within city limits according to city data, ConocoPhillips has submitted a majority of them and has requested waivers to build the vapor towers. One active well near the Cottonwood Creek neighborhood in Aurora is under development by the gas company.
City Councilman Brad Pierce asked whether the air quality standard could only be obtained with a tall vapor tower versus one that is 20 feet high.
“There may be alternative designs out there that are possible certainly, but this is the engineering solution that has been selected to meet this requirement,” said Maxwell Blair, a representative with ConocoPhillips. “It is essentially a very simple, effective, and reliable solution. There may be other solutions that require more inputs, more design, more controls, more expense, but this is one that is very effective and it’s used by other operators throughout the state, and it’s something that CDPHE is very familiar with.”
Blair said the bulk of equipment on a well site is made up of tanks, which measure 20 feet high and 8 feet in diameter. He said vapor recovery towers are 31 feet high, but only 18 inches in diameter.. He said the device is used to capture bubbles produced at well sites because of atmospheric pressure. “The greenhouse gas emissions are reduced significantly by putting that piece of equipment in the process stream,” he said.
“There is nothing in the law that says you have to be 31 feet,” said John Dougherty, an engineer and a resident of Aurora’s Ward IV. “There is other technology available that accomplishes the same goal. Thirty one feet is a false herring.”
Aurora’s lax issuance of variances has been done under the radar in an attempt to conceal its actions from the citizens. Public notice was given under the umbrella of the Planning Committee. This certainly made it hard to find. Categorizing the variances as “amendments” takes away from the wholesale lay down given to the drilling companies. Homeowners in the area of Cross Creek and Murphy Creek are being sold out by Aurora. Policies and regulations put in place to protect homeowners are being cast aside to accommodate the drilling companies. A Murphy Creek neighborhood group has been tracking the developments. See their work here https://www.mcgcneighbors.org/fracking.html
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