Thornton city council approved a proposed 10-well fracking site at the southeast corner of the E-470 and I-25 intersection on Nov. 29 on a 6-2 vote.
“You’ve done everything that …
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“You’ve done everything that can be done for that location,” Mayor Jan Kulmann said.
Civitas Resources Inc. bought land from Sands Partners LLC and will use 3.6 acres to develop 10 wells. However, the rest of the land plans to be developed as well. A proposal is awaiting city council approval for 1.3 million square feet of warehouse development next to the fracking site.
The site will be active for 20-30 years.
Even if city council didn’t approve the project, it would’ve most likely been given the green light through a different route of authorization. Thornton’s Municipal Code outlines three different routes, according to Colin Wahab, acting planning manager.
The Oil and Gas Permit Process requires a public hearing if the minimum requirements are satisfied, the Expedited Oil and Gas Permit Process says staff approves administratively if the operator meets heightened standards, and the Operator Agreement, which is approved by city council and establishes a framework for environmental, public health, safety and welfare.
Civitas went through an operator agreement and staff recommended approval. According to Wahab, the negotiated terms are more protective than city and state requirements, the operator agreed to plugging and abandoning existing wells within the city, the city will receive financial reimbursements, higher insurance and assurance requirements, there will be training and coordination with the fire department and the operator conducted a location analysis to see where the best location would be.
Some of the negotiated terms that exceed protective requirements include using electric equipment on site, Tier 4+ fracturing pumps, ongoing 24-hour computerized monitoring, response to Ozone Action Days and early implementation of Leak Detection and Repair inspections.
As well, there will be a water quality testing program to anyone with an available water source within a half mile of the radius of the location and the fluids used will be PFAS-free.
The development is also required to keep the city informed of relevant information through notification and reporting that would not otherwise be required. An annual review, evaluation, and update of the Cumulative Impacts Plan will also be provided.
Civitas will remove five wells, ten tanks, five gas meter stations, five separators and four miles of pipeline.
For financial reimbursements, $220,000 will go towards emergency equipment and training, $100,000 towards the cost of road and infrastructure impacts, and up to $175,000 to verify ongoing compliance with the heightened standards of the agreement.
Kulmann, who is also an oil and gas engineer, peppered the applicant with over seven questions.
She asked whether or not the wells will be filled if the project wasn’t approved. The operator said they wouldn’t be.
Kulmann asked for the company to post their website and phone number for concerned residents to contact them for concerns. They agreed.
She also asked if they plan to use recycled fracking water, and they said no.
At the Oct. 24 planning session, Kulmann also asked for electric fracks, and she asked for it again on Nov. 29. The operator said they are evaluating the technology.
She also asked when the operations plan to begin. Once the process is approved and goes through the application process, they expect summer of 2023 with production starting a year after, company reps said.
For ozone awareness, she asked what their plan is for nonattainment days, and the applicant said it’s a judgment call based on the day’s situation and will come down to the final hour.
City Councilor Kathy Henson asked if the staff had any concerns for health and safety. Wahab said city staff looks at code requirements for guidance.
“We believe this operator agreement is the best path forward,” he said.
Lisa McKenzie, associate professor at Colorado School of Public Health, said in an interview that 60 epidemiological studies around oil and gas across the United States have been consistent in showing that people living nearest to oil and gas are more likely to have children with adverse birth outcomes, such as low birth weights and premature births.
The studies also show that children with congenital heart defects are more likely to be living near oil and gas wells. The same goes for asthma.
Stargate Charter School sits about 1.5 miles south of the development and Little Lights Christian Early Learning Center is about .5 miles south.
Stargate Executive Director of Academics Kate Sivarajah said the school has no comment on the site. Arlene Masterson, owner of Little Lights Christian Early Learning Center, did not respond to requests for comment.
Within a half mile of the site, there are 56 parcels and of those parcels, 35 are believed to have residential uses. The rest are primarily commercial.
“We know that the total evolved organic compounds coming out (of fracking wells) together have been associated with respiratory symptoms. We also know that people living around oil and gas in other places have complained of things like upper respiratory symptoms, skin rashes, bloody noses and things like that,” she said.
In an interview, Jeffrey L. Collett, a professor at Colorado State University’s school of engineering, explained with fracking comes air pollution.
He pointed to a few of the specific emissions: methane, fine particles, nitrogen oxide, benzene and a wide range of volatile organic compounds.
Collett said those living close to the development should be most concerned with benzene.
The pollutant comes from wildfires, fueling stations and oil and gas developments. He said it’s a carcinogen and the effects are felt from decades of exposure. Lew said the site will be active for 20-30 years.
Scientists found living, working or going to school within 2,000 feet of sites emitting benzene leads to health risks. Beyond 2,000 feet is currently under investigation by scientists.
The other chemicals emitted, like methane and nitrogen oxide, affect the broader community. He said methane contributes to global warming substantially more than carbon dioxide. Nitrogen oxide reacts in the atmosphere and leads to hazy days.
“Oil and gas developments along the Front Range can contribute to the regional ozone and fine particles haze episodes that we have,” he said. “Those aren’t a concern for those living next to the operation, but more for everybody living in the bigger region of 100 miles or more.”
Both City Councilor Julia Marvin and Henson both voted no on the proposal due to health concerns.
“I have a lot of concerns for the health and safety of our residents with this time of operation that’s going in,” Marvin said.
In addition to health reasons, Henson noted that with Thornton being a growing city, that space could be used for something else.
“I have grave concerns about health and safety, ramifications, the location, it’s in proximity to schools and businesses, housing,” Henson said.
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