A future fracking site is set to be close to an Aurora neighborhood near East 3rd Avenue and Powhaton Road.(Marla R. Keown/Aurora Sentinel)

AURORA | Porscha Hicks-Plant squinted at the multiple layers of steel casing and cement that surround a drill pipe as it plunges thousands of feet below the surface.

As she started to ask a question about the display in front of her, she was interrupted by a young girl tugging impatiently at her shawl.

Hicks-Plant lives with her husband and three daughters in the Adonea subdivision near Interstate 470 and Sixth Avenue Parkway in Aurora. She attended an open house meeting at Murphy Creek Tavern hosted by ConocoPhillips in October to try to understand how a well site 1,700 feet from her neighborhood would impact the neighborhood where she’s lived for two and a half years.

“I feel like I want to sell my house,” she said, worried what a nearby operating well would do to her home value, and how her quality of life would be impacted. “What will that do to the water around us? There are just so many unknowns.”

Von Henderson, a completion supervisor with ConocoPhillips, answered her questions regarding the safety of her drinking water, explaining the pipe goes thousands of feet below the surface of any city aquifer. But he couldn’t tell her exactly where that drill pipe was going. “Right now we’re in the appraisal phase. What we’re doing is we’re checking different parts of the field,” he explained.

According to Karl Fennessey, a spokesman for ConocoPhillips, the company is in the exploration phase of a potentially oil-rich Niobrara shale formation. Most of the 130,000 net acres ConocoPhillips leases mineral rights on is located in Adams and Arapahoe Counties, and that shale formation is located 7,500 feet below the surface.


“We’ve got a little over 30 wells that we’ve drilled,” he said to city staff, council members and concerned residents who toured three well pad sites in various stages of development in October. “We’re trying to understand the formation, we’re trying to understand if the hydrocarbons are there, and if so, if they’re recoverable in an economic way.”

Fennessey said ConocoPhillips is producing 600 barrels of oil a day from the formation. Once in production mode, the wells can produce for up to 30 years. He added that all of the wells incorporate horizontal drilling, which means they run nearly 1.5 miles horizontally from where they are drilled below the surface.

ConocoPhillips, which started leasing land in Aurora in 2012, owns six of eight well sites that were recently approved by city planners. Two of those approved sites are in production. The company has submitted nine more applications for sites in East Aurora that have not been approved.

Jim Lowry, a spokesman for ConocoPhillips, said there are no plans to drill laterally from any of the company’s wells under the Adonea neighborhood. “As part of the appraisal process, two possible well sites have been identified outside the state-regulated distance of 1,000 feet from any residence, but neither of those sites has been scheduled for drilling,” he said.

He  said the company has held 11 of these open houses for residents of east Aurora where drilling is taking place, and that about 2,000 people have attend the meetings. 

“We paint the wells, we paint the equipment. If there’s a need, we put a sound barrier around (a site). We try to make the most minimal footprint we can make,” he said.

Lowry added that the company even goes above and beyond local and state regulations by holding open houses and being open to residents’ concerns. None of the sites would trigger a city planning commission review, according to the city’s oil and gas regulations. That would require a well site or an oil and gas facility to be within 1,000 feet of a residence, city-owned park, reservoir, open space, or golf course.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has the authority to regulate oil and gas drilling, while the city can only regulate the land use impacts such as truck traffic. State laws do not allow cities to interfere with operational or technical aspects of oil and gas development, though in recent years cities throughout Colorado have tried to ban or place moratoriums on fracking. None so far have been successful. 

The Aurora city council and the city’s staff are moving forward to amend oil and gas regulations so that ConocoPhillips can install 31.5-foot tall vapor recovery towers to meet state air quality regulations at well sites. Right now, city regulations only allow companies to build well pad facilities as high as 20 feet.

That’s something John Dougherty, an Aurora resident and spokesperson for Aurora Citizens for Responsible Energy, takes issue with. He said there is shorter equipment that can accomplish the same goal of controlling emissions, and that ConocoPhillips is just trying to save money by installing the taller towers.   

“The Murphy Creek neighbors are not trying to stop the wells but they just want companies to do what the law requires, which is put in a fence, put in some landscaping, and keep the equipment height down,” he said while driving on Powhaton Road near East Third Avenue, where the well site close to Adonea will be constructed in what is now  a field of dead corn. “I have yet to meet a person that actually wants to stop the development.”

10 replies on “ConocoPhillips digs into Aurora drilling and fracking controversy”

  1. I used to ride my bike out Quincy to Kiowa-Bennett Rd., then take Colfax to S. Watkins Rd. and Quincy back to Mission Viejo. It was a very popular bike route. This summer I got to experience heavy truck traffic (diesels of all shapes and sizes) and strong, mysterious smells like aerosols combined with gases and oils as I rode past fracking sites, increasing blood flow and oxygen intake to improve my health and wellness (or was it to increase my risk of cancer). Now I call it the Tour de Frack and not only will I never ride it again, I recommend against it to all my cycling friends. Please understand the “unintended” consequences of policy decisions. I wonder if I will stop going to the Aurora Reservoir too…

    1. so in america you have the freedoms to go where ever you please. In your case, you have the freedom to ride your bike where ever you please. So i would suggest you stop spewing propaganda and find another bike route. And just for comparison sake: I cant stand bike riders on public streets. you create a hazardous situation to people driving cars. Most of you dont obey traffic signals and i always have to swerve to avoid you. BUT, you dont hear me coming on anywhere saying we should BAN bike riding! Frankly i think there are more hazards to riding a bike on a public street meant for CARS than any fracking site could ever create.

      1. Public streets aren’t meant just for CARS. Bike riders pay the same taxes as everyone else, and have the same rights. There are plenty of auto drivers who don’t obey traffic signals and create hazardous situations for other drivers. Bicyclists as the cause or victim of accidents in Colorado are a very small percentage. Pedestrians were 10% of the auto related fatalities in Colorado last year, and they weren’t hit by BICYCLISTS.

        You need to chill out. People like you, up tight and in a hurry are almost as big a danger as drunk drivers on our highways.

  2. To Mr. Dougherty, who apparently seems to think he speaks for all of us, there are PLENTY of people who want to stop the development. Perhaps you should seek us out, rather than just assuming and speaking for us all.

    1. I am one of those who wants to stop fossil fuel development. And I truly encourage renewable, sustainable energy – especially connected to buildings; check out Ecotech Institute in Aurora on Abilene and south of Mississippi.
      But I also want to say THANK YOU to Jack (John Dougherty) for all his continued hard work and diligence in trying to protect the people of Aurora insofar as the “novel idea” of following the rules that the City has set out. Jack is the one who made it known in Aurora that Conoco Phillips has already had a fire in Aurora — small enough that they got it out even before an emergency vehicle arrived. Perhaps it was because Jack was watching and reporting, but whatever, it is good that CP corrected the mechanical problem at that site and then at others also. But we need to know about spills and fires, however “small”!

      1. you do realize of course that the COGCC has authority over local municipalities right? There are laws to put people like you in your place and keep you there. The COGCC was established to supercede YOU and local govts in the interest of creating energy this country absolutely has to have to survive. FYI, your ability to come on here and use scare tactics is only available because of FOSSIL FUELS!! Your Computer, your internet access, your house from where you spread lies through your computer and on and on and on. When alternative energy is actually cost effective ill listen, until then ill raise my BS flag on all you government hating hippies.

        1. Wow, I actually think of myself as traditional, “square.” So thanks for the compliment in calling me a “hippie.” I won’t stoop to name-calling, nor will I bother giving you a reasonable rebuttal. I think you are just a bully; so I’m done with you.

        2. How do you know that parched doesn’t ride a horse? When you ASSUME, it changes you into the first part of an ASSUMPTION.

  3. I one hundred percent agree with Concerned Resident. I live in the Traditions neighborhood and DO NOT want them to go through with this at all. It’s ugly, loud, and we have no idea what kind of chemicals we will now be breathing (on top of all the pollution already in the air). I’m highly disappointed and really wish there was something that could be done to stop it. Unfortunately big business wins again and the value of my home drops.

    1. The business that should be winning is renewable: solar and wind, connected to buildings, over parked cars…. Speaking of cars, I’m loving my Chevy Volt that hardly ever uses gas, and then it’s only to occasionally charge the battery; a full electric charge is pretty darn cheap too.
      Yes, there is no quick fix regarding fossil fuel development (gas & oil), nor the taking of our democracy and removal of transparency in Aurora city government, for example.
      BUT WE CAN TAKE ACTION. There are several options that WILL make a difference. Please find out more at the SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 15, (11 am to 1 pm) free event that includes 2 short films that expose the dangers of fracking through the eyes of real people: families, gas workers, entrepreneurs, farmers, and public officials. EVENT LINK: https://www.facebook.com/events/977147732312315/

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