AURORA — Some Aurora residents are questioning the transparency of city staff over administrative waivers that may be granted to Houston-based oil and gas developer ConocoPhillips to build 30-foot-tall towers
for hydraulic fracturing near residential developments.
ConocoPhillips has five or six well sites in city limits right now. Aurora city planner Stephen Rodriguez said that the five applications moving through the approval process represent a major spike in oil and gas development, especially considering that more applications are due in the coming months.
Well sites "will soon be in the double digits, which is a tremendous increase," Rodriguez said. "The city looks at land use impacts ... we do not approve anything that has to do with oil and gas drilling — all of that is regulated by the state."
City staff is working to keep up its local regulations on things like vapor recovery tanks, which are used to control greenhouse emissions.
In 2012, the city approved an ordinance that limits the height of those tanks to 20 feet. The ordinance also requires a 1,000-foot setback from residences and city property.
Now, city planners are working to amend that ordinance to allow the tanks to be at least 30 feet tall.
Some residents in one of the closest subdivisions, Murphy Creek, say they didn't get an opportunity to address city council on the new waivers, which can be approved without going before council.
While the 2012 ordinance only allows the city to consider waivers if a developer violates the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission regulations or if the company encroaches on private property, another ordinance allows the planning and zoning commission to consider any waiver for any reason with a public hearing.
According to city staff, planned fracking sites are approximately 1,100 feet north of County Line Road and Hayesmount Road. The closest residential lot in Murphy Creek is approximately 2,000 feet from one of the proposed well sites, and the Adonea subdivision is approximately 1,700 feet from another proposed well site.
Margaret Sobey, a resident of Murphy Creek, discussed her concerns at a recent council meeting.
"It's hard to understand how, legally, you can skip from one code to another," she said, "It's really important, I think, that things be processed in a manner that the public can understand."
Village East resident John Dougherty is a member of the resident group, Aurora Citizens for Responsible Energy, which he says exists so that Aurora citizens can be heard on energy development issues.
"I'm very much for developing this resource, I just want it done responsibly and not ... cloaked in secrecy like what's happening now," he said. "I've probably spent 15 hours a week just trying to track down what they are doing."
Dougherty said he takes no issue with the legality of the waiver process to increase tower height, but he said that the city is not acting in the spirit of the 2012 ordinance.
"It seems that council call-up is the only mechanism to fix some of these waived mitigation measures," he said, referring to the process whereby a council member can request to hear an issue. He said he thinks the city is prioritizing ConocoPhillips over the concerns of residents.
What: Public meeting with representatives from ConocoPhillips
When: 5 p.m. Sept. 9
Where: Arapahoe County Fairgrounds, 25690 E. Quincy Ave. Aurora