Aurora OKs 2nd oil-and-gas agreement, making way for another 80 new wells

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AURORA | After nearly two-and-a-half hours of public comment Monday night, Aurora City Council approved an oil and gas operator agreement that allows 80 new oil and gas wells in the city. 

The agreement, which was delayed from a late June meeting, passed on a 6-4 vote, with council members Nicole Johnston, Allison Hiltz, Crystal Murillo and Angela Lawson voting “no” on the deal.

Extraction, which was asking for the approval of a total of 80 wells and a central gathering facility, is still in negotiations with the Aurora Highlands, a massive housing development planned for the city’s northeastern edge, over one section of land where home developers don’t want any drilling to occur.

As planned, The Aurora Highlands would span 2,900 acres southeast of Denver International Airport near Interstate 70 and the E-470 toll road. In later phases, the sprawling development would encompass nearly 5,000 acres and could one day be home to 23,000 families.

Aurora Highlands developer Carlo Ferreira said in 2017 he wanted to work with the oil and gas developers to avoid drilling near the home development. That came on the heels of an oil and gas-related explosion in Firestone.

“Our ultimate goal in developing this comprehensive drilling plan is to provide long-term planning for both the oil and gas companies, the future development of Aurora and the citizens of The Aurora Highlands. Balancing the rights of the mineral rights holders with the rights of residents to live in a healthy, safe environment is our top priority,” he said then.

Extraction representatives assured the council members that a deal would get done, even saying that the two parties stepped into the hall during the meeting to discuss options. 

The standoff between the two companies represents a larger question of how an expanding Denver metro region will mingle with oil and gas production in an area ripe for drilling.

This year Senate Bill 19-181 gave local governments like Aurora the ability to control oil and gas development in their own jurisdictions, prompting Aurora to partake in the operator agreements that set health, safety and environmental standards for oil and gas companies.

Since original talks about removing oil and gas development from the Aurora Highlands project, the developer struck a deal with ConocoPhillips, though the terms of that agreement are not public.

Discussions during city meetings did reveal that ConocoPhillips would move ground operations to a nearby plot of land, into what the city is calling an “energy corridor” included in the Highlands development. 

Councilman Charlie Richardson, a former Aurora city attorney, told Extraction representatives he believed they should hire a retired federal judge to help mediate the deal. 

Even so, if Extraction wants to drill on the section of land the Aurora Highlands wants to remain vacant, the oil and gas company would have to appeal to the city council, a move council member Dave Gruber said likely wouldn’t garner a lot of support.

Oil and gas industry supporters and workers packed the Aurora City Council Chamber. 

Mayor Bob LeGare estimated that about 250 showed up in support of the agreement. About 40 stood in opposition to the four well pads and gathering facility. At one point, the fire marshal closed the chamber because it was at capacity, with only standing room in the back of the chamber.

Local chambers of commerce supported the operator agreement — Aurora’s second since the council approved the process earlier this year — while representatives from the Aurora Highlands joined area residents in opposing the measure. 

Many of the opponents of the deal said they’d like to see a moratorium on all new oil and gas agreements, but that so far has not been presented as an option.