Structured Aurora committee may advise on fracking, drilling

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AURORA | Since 2012, the city’s Oil and Gas Committee has existed on an informal basis, which means, unlike other city committees, it doesn’t take meeting minutes, it doesn’t have recorded agendas or ways for the public to see what they do as easily as they can other city committees.

“It needs to be more open to the public,” said Councilwoman Renie Peterson, who oversees Ward II in east Aurora, where ConocoPhillips has received numerous permits to drill future oil wells.

Peterson is proposing an ordinance that would formalize the committee by making it an advisory board. If approved by city council, the ordinance would require the committee to create a formal mission statement, bylaws and define who its members are.

The committee’s mission statement, according to city documents, would be to provide an educational forum for residents and surface owners, and to report on a quarterly basis to city council. The committee would not be able to vote or change any applications or waivers that come to city planning, which Peterson said is disappointing.

“I wanted all of the waivers to not be given by planning staff but to go to the Planning Commission so people could be more aware and have a voice. That got shut down,” she said.

Under the proposed ordinance, three citizens would be appointed to the committee by city council members, along with three oil and gas operators and three landowners.

Right now, city council appoints three members to serve on the committee. The rest of the committee is informally composed of oil and gas industry representatives, homebuilders and city staff.

A growing checkerboard of mineral rights and new oil and gas leases in urban, populated areas of Arapahoe County and Aurora has made Aurora a focal point for the state’s pro- and anti-fracking activists. Using data from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, the environmental nonprofit Conservation Colorado found a total of 187,000 active leases near neighborhoods, parks and schools in Arapahoe County.

City planners as well as pro-oil advocates have countered that drilling has been suspended with no new applications in the works due to falling oil prices.

Residents of Aurora’s eastern neighborhoods that include the Murphy Creek and Adonea subdivisions where numerous well sites have been approved by the city for ConocoPhillips, said they liked that the ordinance would make the committee meetings more transparent and accessible.

The ordinance is slated for discussion at a city council study session May 11.