A pipe is capped off while undergoing a pressure test Oct. 16 near Murphy Creek in 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 city land without a public hearing. (Marla R. Keown/Aurora Sentinel)

While Colorado’s oil and gas fracking controversy had previously been relegated as a sort of statewide jobs thing and an issue for the Western Slope, it’s a issue in Aurora’s backyard now.

The problem isn’t with oil and gas companies drilling and fracking to force natural gas and so-so crude oil from Aurora acreage, the problem is the tug-of-war between state and local officials over who calls the shots on drilling and fracking regulations and details.

Oil companies of course want more lenient requirements for mitigating noise, appearance and environmental concerns, especially given the falling price of oil and in some cases, natural gas. More than anything, though, they want consistency and predictability in rules for how far drill rigs need to be from homes or how tall equipment can be. That way, potential wells can be graded for profitability based on the market price of petroleum.

Oil and gas workers drill a new well Oct. 16 near East Jewell Avenue and Watkins Road in Aurora. Wells are commonly 8,000 feet deep before going horizontal for a mile or more across an oil-bears strata. 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)

The problem with statewide regulations, however, is that Colorado’s environment and communities are about as diverse as they come. What makes sense in the wilds of the Western Slope valley doesn’t make sense less than a quarter mile from a bustling Aurora neighborhood.

We’ve implored state lawmakers previously to provide for common-sense local oversight and money to monitor operations, but political leaders seem intent on keeping total control and oversight.

All this came to a head again this week when Aurora lawmakers said they’d signed city mineral-rights leases over to ConocoPhillips, without a public hearing. That incensed some city council members, angry that the half-million-dollar drilling rights to swaths of city-owned land on Aurora’s eastern side were negotiated in executive session.

The city negotiates similar deals in executive session fairly regularly. Land and water purchases are hammered out in secret to protect taxpayer interests. And city officials made it clear that the pact had only to do with what Conoco might do some day. Oil companies pay for oil and gas options all the time.

But this isn’t a deal for land easements, and this isn’t Rifle, Colorado. Nothing precluded the city from announcing that it was negotiating mineral rights on some city property, primarily for the sole purpose of raising money to provide oversight on oil and gas operations on private property. State law keeps Aurora and other communities from assessing fees on oil and gas extraction to pay for inspections, and that’s how the city finances oversight on all other industries, such as homebuilding, pot shops and even roof repair.

But because drilling and fracking are so fraught with emotion, confusion and controversy, Aurora missed an opportunity to maintain its position on the high ground in the eyes of residents by being up front about the lease deal, before it became public that it was completed.

Nothing the city did was nefarious or unethical. On the contrary, in an almost impossible situation caught in the middle of industry, state law, politicians and rightfully concerned residents, Aurora’s mineral leases make sense. But like most government controversies, and especially environmental ones, it’s the appearance of impropriety that captures public attention.

Because oil and gas operation controversy has now come home to Aurora, Adams and Arapahoe counties, all three would be wise to convene a special alliance to make sure eastern-metro interests are recognized by the state, and it would provide a way for local governments in the area to be as transparent and credible as possible.

22 replies on “EDITORIAL: Aurora drills into the heart of all fracking controversy: transparency”

    1. That is your opinion. Not so documented. Many of the cattle feeding lots are not so close to roads, or in number these days, but nothing could make the air more toxic than a feedlot, near highway in earlier years. The dissension now is the non-mineral owning land top owner, who does not want to see drilling rigs, or any such operation anywhere in sight of their homes. I grew up in Ohio, with oil and gas wells on most farms around us, and the small lease payment each year was welcome. Frocking has been standard for decades, with complaints, that cannot be proved. Just as the chemical plants near metro area a few years back brought claims of excessive cancer or birth abnormalities. Always seem to bring out those who complain, when anything new comes along. Energy sufficiency is a necessary status, to reduce the killing or injuring of our military to ensure world gains oil-gas-coal. Wind and Solar cannot provide energy as needed, though we have poured funds into that since the 1960-70 era.

      1. “Cancer has a long latency, so you’re not seeing an elevation in cancer in these communities. But five, 10, 15 years from now, elevation in cancer is almost certain to happen.”

        Eight poisonous chemicals were found near wells and fracking sites in Arkansas, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Wyoming at levels that far exceeded recommended federal limits. Benzene, a carcinogen, was the most common, as was formaldehyde, which also has been linked to cancer. Hydrogen sulfide, which smells like rotten eggs and can affect the brain and upper-respiratory system, also was found.

        “I was amazed,” Carpenter says. “Five orders of magnitude over federal limits for benzene at one site – that’s just incredible. You could practically just light a match and have an explosion with that concentration.I t’s an indication of how leaky these systems are.”

      2. The worst poison in this world is greed. Unfortunately we cannot eradicate that.

        “For greed, the entire world is too little.” ~ Seneca ( 4 BC – AD 65)

        1. And also greed exists in the souls of every human walking this earth. Do you have a means to regulate it? Those who still own mineral rights as land owners, want to realize the funds from that. And those who bought houses in developed areas, seldom own the mineral rights under their property. And I don’t have anything in any of my deeds that indicate just how deep under my properties through the years, was mine to control. Disturb the surface or dwellings, and get paid, but mineral rights are entirely different. Fracking and horizontal drilling has changed the picture completely, to advantage of all citizens.

      3. horizontal slick water fracking is relatively new — only about 7 years. “frocking” cannot
        be done safety. Today more than 15 million Americans live a mile or less from a
        fracking well.
        There are 52,533 active fracking wells in Colorado. There are less than 20 inspectors.
        You are so wrong about alternative energy Frank. There is a town in Vermont that
        uses alternative energy 100%. To suggest that wind and solar cannot provide
        energy needs is not true.

        1. And you really believe that? Windmills pumped water and ran generators good for one house in my youth, and we used solar to dry clothes hanging outside on line. And check Ecel electric bill, for percentages of their power generated by coal-gas-oil at about 80%. 16% Alternate energy due to government and state requirement of 20%. Water for the rest.
          There may be one Vermont that only uses alternate energy, but I suspect it is very small town, who go to bed early and get up when sun comes up. Most ALL alternate energy requires backup by other energy producers.
          YOu stick with what you believe, and I will go with mine. If environmentalist were not such a strong opposition, each city would have it own nuclear plant, producing its energy needs at a fraction of what we pay. Solar in Aurora is outrageously priced with the destruction of the solar panels on that heat farm at I-70 and DIA exit area. I looked at that and you have to believe in Obama Economy, to see that as a bargain. I don’t buy it, since I use my own money for family needs.

    2. so how do you suggest America get its energy? do you drive a car? do you heat your home? when alternative energy sources are as efficient and cost effective as oil and natural gas, get back to me. or would you rather have us be reliant on oil from the Middle East? all you people do is try to instill fear in everyone without even considering the bigger picture OR the fact that you personally benefit from oil and natural gas on a daily basis. I’m not saying I agree with having the well sites so close to homes, but if they own the minerals rights, they can do whatever they want.

  1. Current slickwater high-volume hydraulic fracturing methods were developed by Mitchell Energy in 1997-8. This was the “breakthrough” that launched the shale boom and the industry celebrates this fact while hiding it from the public. Even George Mitchell himself expressed concerns about the weak regulations on the industry. https://www.forbes.com/sites/christopherhelman/2013/07/27/father-of-the-fracking-boom-dies-george-mitchell-urged-greater-regulation-of-drilling/

  2. Have any of you who have posted in the past, or here ever worked underground in a mine? I have at age 18, in Ohio in shallow slope mine, where all of those gases and poisons you refer to exist. Lucky me, coal mine closed and Korean war started, changing my life career to different levels. We are dealing with the 3 main forms of matter, energy, physics on this planet. Liquid, gas, and solids. As I taught in Electronic Fundamentals years later, all that existed on this planet as it formed (big bang), (?) still exists here in changed forms, but always changing. So all of the poisons you fear come from the earth, and return to the earth. We are more prone to have cancer from solar , since Denver metro is 5,000 ft elevation. So generations from now will be spouting the same fears, suggestions, and studies we did in the past, now, and into the future. Mother Nature herself has a big hand in that with Volcanos erupting in Ring of Fire, Heating the oceans, winds, etc. etc. What man has done is rather insignificant when compared to what History Channel shows on their DVDs, of Making of the Earth, Space, and of study of the millions of years evolution seen in the Rockies as they rise, fall, rise, fall. When you consider all that, I would much prefer seeing a drilling rig to remove our dependence on middle east oil, gas, and other minerals, even if we do open up some of our USA lands. Environmentalists love the word PRISTINE but nothing on this earth now, looks or feels the same as the first cave people saw, or the nomadic tribes saw. OIL-GAS-COAL are still cheapest form of energy, and support more jobs than solar, wind, or other exotic forms of energy experiments. Even with pouring millions and billions into make-work projects, for high paying jobs for our ex-governors. Energy Lab simply took over cost of doing business, where companies, corporations, and businesses used to pay, and loaded those expenses on tax-payers. My opinion, and I believe as valid as the non-fracking crowd. By the way, now 85, I still don’t show problems with cancer or lung diseases, other than aging, and heart now wanting to set new pulsing rhythms, and arthritis due to cold weather in Labrador and Grand Forks, ND.

    1. Frank, lucky you! At 85 still in good health, in spite of a lot of exposure to pollution.
      Yes, Denver’s elevation greatly increases the risk of SKIN CANCER. So please PROTECT YOURSELF 100 percent with one layer of clothing — and don’t forget a brimmed hat and sunglasses.

      Naturally erupting volcanoes — like earthquakes — are what most people run away from, or at least try to avoid. It’s a survival instinct.
      That is what Environmentalists are concerned with: our survival kit, which includes air, water, surface and below-surface land, and more.
      You don’t just accept the fate that Nature hands you, you get down and dirty and encourage more environmental hazards by surfacing more poisons that the Earth’s layers of rock and soil have been protecting us from.

      But then, even if you, Frank, live to be 100 –just 15 more years– you won’t be around for the end of life on this planet. Again, lucky you.

      1. This posting I had missed. Volcanoes erupting have more influence on our planet than stated here. When that ash, smoke, gases, with all of its contents go up into the stratosphere, it goes around and around this planet many times. Restricts sun rays, so earth is cooler, and that ash comes back to earth in very small particles (unseen until it shows and feels crusty on metal surfaces). But we breathe it in, and have problems with warnings to reduce our outside activities. And if you really want to know the rotten egg smell, go to Yellowstone where regular eruptions occur. I have walked across the Kilaua Volcano crust, where hot lava was about 13 feet below. Stop for few moments, and felt the heat through soles of our shoes. Family was there one night for eruption about 1972-73 when we went to Kilaua Military Camp for week. Wife’s parents had first plane flight from Denver to Honolulu and I had reservations few days later to KMC. Get a real appreciation for what Mother Nature can and will do, as she pleases and when she wants. Volcano erupting brings on a change of lightning, heavy rains, and temperature can change quickly. So Planet is intertwined with weather conditions. And the gas smell is terrific, and causes real breathing problems. Gov. Hickenlooper should have made this abundantly clear, being a geologist with studying the earth, under the surface (with its gases, pressures, heat, and other conditions. I have been disappointed he was not more forceful in opposing Polis, and developing Colorado Energy to benefit all citizens (Colorado and North American) . Thank you for being concerned about my health, but I am pragmatic farmer kid from Ohio. Farmers plant in the spring, weed and assist growth in summer, harvest in fall, and plow under before winter. I am in the late fall, early winter of my life. And with this economy, I don’t want to live to be 100.

  3. Comment for all: My wife was born in Denver, I met her in 1951, Married 1952 here in Denver. Skies in those days were black in the Denver Basin where emissions from coal-wood-oil whatever hung around for weeks, and winds blew away on the plains. Folks lived to be 80,90, 100. I saw the same in Ohio (birth state) with steel mills, coke plants, and every farm had a small gas – oil pumping shallow gas-oil. Coal mines in Pa deep shaft mines, those in Ohio were shallow, slope mines. All had same gases, water, seeping out. I worked in Leesville Coal Mine 1947-49, breathing coal dust without respirators. At 85, I still do not have cancer or problems other than aging, and the changes to my life in military, in Labrador, Grand Forks, and the heat states over 26 years military. All of those terrible emissions and gases come from the earth, and return to the earth (either as gas-liquid-solid). We refine it, condense it, but it gets released and is still here in whatever form. Fracking started with dynamite, then progressed through explosives after civil war, and now is water with chemicals found under your kitchen sinks. Make the rocks slippery, and let oil-gas- move between the layers and settle in pools. And Fracking is practiced in Russia, Canada, USA, and has been over the years. As one posting here says 7 years . Gee, they woke up and it had come to Eastern side of the Rockies. Be glad they also started horizontal drilling to not need so many surface holes.

    1. I don’t store ethybenzine, diesel fuel, toulene and other cancer causing chemicals under my sink.
      At least 25% of the more than 700 chemicals that are used in fracking are linked to cancer.

      1. Have you checked each and every item under there? Also a lot of folks store same kind of stuff in their garages, and when it gets old, they dump it down the sewers. That was reason Texas closed their camping trailer-motor home dumps at the roadside rest areas, same as other states did. Folks from the city, including the business folks to dump their liquid waste in the dumps. I traveled, visited, and lived in 44 of our 50 states, in travel trailers, motor homes, and camping vans after I retired from military. Put up video camera to validate the dumpers, and lawyers worked the loopholes in law to get them small fines, or none. Don’t try to fool with old folks Leroy. I know you have axe to grind. When my brothers and sister, sold our father’s farm in Ohio (112 acres) we did not think to retain the mineral rights. So I do not complain of the unfairness of it, as so many in Colorado are. I bought my Aurora home in 1963 when we had 3,000 neighbors. Now we have 325,000 in Aurora, and very few are neighborly. We know if we follow the money, whose ox is being gored. Almost all o those you listed were choice cleaning agents about 20 years ago, in houses, garages, or store rooms. When did you get rid of yours? And How?

        1. Aurora has a “Chemical Roundup” at least annually. That is how I got rid of mine. I use about 4 cleaners, including the great standby for a lot of things: Vinegar. Green Works all-purpose cleaner contains a coconut-based cleaning agent, alcohol (sorry to see that go down the drain, huh?), fragrance with essential oil, biodegradable preservative (methylisothizolinone), color, and water — NO phosphorus, NO bleach. Green Works – Toilet Bowl Cleaner contains plant-based cleaning agent, citric acid, lactic acid, fragrance with essential oil (NOT petroleum based), xanthan gum as thickener, color and water — NO phosphorus nor bleach.
          BETTER YET, I use Seventh Generation – Natural Laundry Detergent that comes in a paper box and is NOT tested on animals, NO phosphates nor bleach, and has a cool fact: “If every household in the U.S. replaced just one box of 112 oz. petroleum-based (that’s the fracked oil) concentrated laundry detergent with OUR PLANT-DERIVED PRODUCT, we could save 165,000 barrels of oil — That’s enough to heat and cool 9,500 U.S. homes for a year!” — My house is clean and safe. How about yours?

          1. Did you check my later posting about the Boulder-CU Laboratory analysis using latest means, where they tested the Fracking Water from the different states. Found none of those poisonous gases listed early in this article (found in the ground as gas seeping from the mine walls and ceilings). But what Boulder-CU found was same stuff found in toothpaste, ice cream, and other household products we use, and goes down our drains. Just makes the rocks slippery, similar to soap used in taking a shower, but they found edible residue. And Colorado tests water and air before drilling, and afterwards. So far no wells have produced the contamination certain folks are afraid of. And by the way for “Parched”. I hope the laundry soap he uses is not those solid ball types that is poisoning so many small children, who find them and eat them thinking they are candy or cookies. (I also might ask, how many of the non-Fracking folks use Mary Jane (Pot)?

      1. I appreciate the comment, and you are welcome. Wife was very supportive, allowing me freedom to manage and supervise in high level projects during those years. Last two projects was installing TACSATCOM terminal on Oahu, Hawaii for Presidential Support, and then being involved as 1 of 3, from AFCS Headquarters to design Satellite Terminal at Offut AFB, NE, in 1976, retiring In October 76. Pres. Bush spoke over that terminal to the nation, after 11Sep2001, WTC disaster. (Attack)

  4. “… A 2014 study focused on community risks reports that ‘Over the long-term, natural resource [oil, gas, coal] dependent communities experience relatively high rates of unemployment and poverty, instability, inequality, crime and low educational attainment.’ ” (1) “As one North Dakota social services director puts it, ‘about 10 percent of the people are making a profit from the oil wells and 90 percent have to put up with the problems.'”(2) “This puts into perspective the industry’s claims about jobs, which typically derive from crude, proprietary, and unverifiable economic forecasting models, based on data provided by the industry.”(3) –(1,2,3) The Urgent Case for a Ban on Fracking by Food and Water Watch, p. 22. [Printed on recycled paper using vegetable-based inks and 100 percent wind power.]

  5. Emotion, confusion and controversy? How about the fact it’s a top-down state-preemption supported toxic industry?

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