Four combustors make up a four well pad on Watkins Road just south of East Jewell Avenue. Combustors burn off the gas that flows back after fracking and burn cleaner than an open flare. State officials are tugged between oil industry interests — trying to make extraction easier and cheaper, especially in light of a recent drop in crude oil prices — and residents backed by local governments that want more control and oversight to keep rigs as far away from homes as possible. (Marla R. Keown/Aurora Sentinel)

AURORA | As new oil and gas development moves quickly along Aurora’s eastern plains, city council and staff are trying to keep up with permit requests and the negative response of residents to drilling operations in Aurora neighborhoods.

Controversy is brewing not only about drilling standards, but about Aurora granting oil and gas rights on public land without a public hearing.

“I’m very disturbed these leases went from executive session to consent without public knowledge,” said Councilwoman Debi Hunter Holen, after hearing comments from residents.

Other council members said the issue is creating problems in the city because affected residents aren’t getting enough information as changes are about to unfold.

“Being councilor for Ward II where most of this is going on is an absolute nightmare,” said Councilwoman Renie Peterson. “The whole process is a real headache. We haven’t given our citizens enough time to know what’s going before we bring these items up to vote on.”

It’s a volatile time for a volatile industry. State officials are tugged between oil industry interests — trying to make extraction easier and cheaper, especially in light of a recent drop in crude oil prices — and residents backed by local governments who want more control and oversight to keep drilling as far away from homes as possible.

At a study session Monday, city council members voted 6-4 to essentially back oil industry interests, partially in reaction to new state regulations. The vote was not binding and will be subject to amendments when it goes to the council floor for first reading on Nov. 24. Council members Markert, Broom, Peterson, and Hunter Holen voted against the potential amendments to the city’s oil and gas code. 

The measure would allow for taller vapor towers at drilling sites. The towers prevent wells from emitting environmental hazards, and taller towers are more effective. But the taller towers also draw complaints from residents who say they are more obtrusive and unsightly. The council bill also reduces fencing, landscaping and screening requirements.

“The state has been amending their regulations for the past two years. And specifically they have new air quality regulations, which require more mitigation at the tank site,” said Aurora Planning Department Manager Jim Sayre. 

He said the city  drafted regulations that only allow well pad facilities to be as a high as 20 feet for oil developer Andarko in 2012. The company at the time owned mineral rights in Aurora and had plans to drill,  but that never came to fruition.  He said those same regulations don’t work for ConocoPhillips, which owns six of eight well sites that were recently approved by city planners, with two of those approved sites in production. The company uses 31.5-foot vapor recovery towers to meet state clean air regulations, and has received waivers from the city to build them.

“This change in our ordinance is supported not only by ConocoPhillips, but by the state oil and gas commission, and the CDPHE (Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment),” he said.

He added that two years ago city planners expected oil and gas development to be much closer to urban Aurora, but now are finding it at the edge of eastern Aurora, and in farmland in unincorporated Arapahoe County.  “Currently, fencing and landscaping are required with every well pad application. This makes little sense in rural settings,” he said.  Under the new regulations, Sayre said the city’s landscaping, irrigation and chain-link fencing requirements would only be applied to any well pad site within 1,500 feet of a platted building, school or park.

Later in the evening, a dozen residents mostly from Adonea and Murphy Creek  neighborhoods expressed concerns over the drilling amendments and the city leasing mineral rights  to ConocoPhillips in nine locations.  According to city documents, ConocoPhillips will lease 648 mineral acres in Aurora for $486,000.

“I’m for energy independence, however some of these are so close to our house,” said Elbert Scott, an Adonea resident concerned over a well that will be operating about 1,700 feet from the neighborhood. “I’m not comfortable with this aggressive schedule.” Other residents questioned why council had not looked into memoranda of understandings rather than ordinances for negotiating with ConocoPhillips.

Joani Cravens, a manager of real property services with Aurora, said if the city neglected to enter into a lease with ConocoPhillips, the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission could force pool to gain access to the city’s mineral rights without its permission.

City council approved the leases 7-3, with council members  Peterson,  Markert, and  Hunter Holen voting no on the measure.

11 replies on “Aurora oil drilling reg changes and city lease tapping into controversy”

  1. How is it possible that 3 council members voted no yet it was approved 8-2? Are they counting differently than the rest of us?

    Still, glad it was approved.

    1. According to this article it was approved 6-4 with Council members Markert, Broom, Peterson, and Hunter Holen voted against. I am not sure where you got 8-2 and 3 council members…? help me out here.

      1. The article has been revised. The final line above originally said the leases were “approved 8-2” with 3 members names listed.

      2. Originally said this…

        “City council approved the leases 8-2, with council members Peterson, Markert, and Hunter Holen voting no on the measure.”

      1. Fine. If it was literally in my back yard I would get a hefty paycheck from the oil company for the duration.

        If it was figuratively in my backyard it would be useful as a point of education for my children for how far we have come in the last few hundred years.

        I really do enjoy having affordable energy. A heated home, and the ability to take my daughters on a road trip when I have time is not to be taken for granted.

        1. Hefty paycheck? They offered neighbors a couple hundred dollars. The city of Aurora is getting $480,00 for over 650 acres. Break down and do the math and it is a miniscule amount for decrease in property value, potential health and environmental concerns.

          1. What health and environmental concerns do you have in mind?
            The return the site to original condition when they leave so any loss in value is short term and the owner is compensated for it.

  2. Ummm… do realize that’s a communication tower in the background of this photo and nothing to do with a well site, right? And by the way, they’re never called “fracking sites.” Fracing is part of the extraction/production process, not what you call the site.

  3. Do journalists still have to learn about their, there, and they’re differences? Just curious.

    Note to Elbert Scott. You sir, are a hypocrite. You want energy independence, but not in your back yard.. so its cool if it is in someone else’s back yard huh? I bet you are fine with lowering your energy bill and gas prices at the pump but that tower is just going too far.

    Also, I’m not correcting the spelling of independence below. Its a direct copy/paste from the article. Does the Sentinel have an editorial board or someone that reads articles before they get printed? How did this one even get published? Since when is whining about business news? There are no arguments against the drilling other than someone just not liking it. Well, last time I checked liking it wasn’t part of the deal unless you are part of the deal. Aurora acted properly by negotiating a deal before it was forced to lease by the State. We gained some by this deal which beats the alternative.

    “I’m for energy indenedpence, however some of these are so close to our house,” said Elbert Scott”

  4. the subject of selling city owned mineral leases to Conoco Phillips was discussed in the Executive Session of the Aurora City Council. I can appreciate that many matters need to be discussed in private concerning
    negotiations. However, the citizens of Aurora did not know what was happening behind closed doors.
    The Council decided to put this matter on the agenda and vote on it without giving the citizens of
    Aurora an opportunity to learn this was even being considered was improper, and frankly very
    disturbing. The citizens of Aurora had absolutely no information about where, when, and how these
    leases would be handled. The Council certainly understands that fracking is a very controversial
    subject, and I would think they would go out of their way to address the matter of selling city mineral
    rights to Conoco Phillips in a straight foward transparent way.
    What was the rush? This matter could have been delayed two weeks, until the next Council meeting,
    giving the citizens of Aurora a much needed platform to address questions that could have been
    I submit that in a true, open democracy, citizens should be given the right to address their elected
    officials. They should also be assured that their elected officials are open, sharing information of
    interest to the community, as well as keeping them informed. This did not happen.
    The City Clerk did not read the agenda items pertaining to mineral leasing, as per standard
    operating procedures either.
    This type of behavior breeds distrust in the Council, and has tarnished their integrity, openess
    and willingness to include, rather than exclude, the interests of the citizens of Aurora.

Comments are closed.