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A herd of elk peers down on visitors to the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge near Golden on Sept. 9, 2018. (EPA Region 8, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Superior’s board of trustees, searching for a way to block a proposed plan to drill 31 wells in the community, edged toward a six-month drilling moratorium and purchasing the drill site for public open space at a meeting Monday night.

“We are unified in our opposition to this,” Mayor Clint Folsom said at the work session called to respond to the proposal from United Kingdom-based Highlands Natural Resources.

Highlands filed anapplication with the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission on Oct. 25 seeking todrill 31 horizontal wells with 62 tanks and 31 devices to separate oil, gas andwater coming out of the wells.

The company plans to drill from the parcel at the intersection of McCaslin Boulevard and Colorado 128 into the Rocky Flats site that is part wildlife refuge and part Superfund site. The company said on its website that it controls 100 percent of the mineral leases for the area.

(The map above shows the approximate location of where Highlands Natural Resources wants to drill from.)

Last week Highlands withdrew applications to drill 14 wells under Standley Lake, which provides drinking water to about 300,000 people, and 14 wells north of the lake, under the Westminster Hills Off-Leash Dog Park.

The Superior trustees heard presentations from town manager Matt Magley, oil and gas attorney Matt Sura and Broomfield Mayor Randy Ahrens.

Sura, who has represented municipalities including Brighton and Thornton on oil and gas issues, told the trustees that the COCGG has never rejected a drilling permit, but added that there had not been a case where there was an application to drill under a plutonium-contaminated Superfund site.

Rocky Flats was a nuclear weapons production facility from 1952 to 1992 and site was heavily contaminated with radioactive material. After a nearly 20-year cleanup, most of the land was opened to the public as a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. refuge. The “Central Operable Unit,” consisting of 1,400 acres, is still an off-limits Superfund site.

Sura said that the industry response would likely be that they are accessing minerals 8,000 feet below the ground, while the Rocky Flats contamination goes no more than 16 feet down.

MORE: Read Highlands Natural Resources’ drilling application

“This is one of the most polluted sites in the country,” trustee Mark Lacis said. “Has the DOE [U.S.Department of Energy] been informed that mining is going on under the site?”

“Shouldn’t there bean environmental impact statement under NEPA [the National Environmental PolicyAct]?” Lacis asked. A NEPA review would be more rigorous than those under statelaw.

Town manager Matt Magley said that he did not know if the DOE had been informed but that the NWFS was participating in the discussions with the oil and gas commission about the proposal.

“This is close to houses, schools and a Superfund site”

The drilling site is about 1,400 feet from the nearest home and about 300 feet from the town’s drinking water storage tank. The land has been on Superior’s the list of sites to purchase for open space. “It is a popular spot in our town for runners, bikers and on the 4th of July that is where everyone sits to watch the fireworks,” trustee-elect Laura Skladzinski said in an interview.

“This close to houses, schools, recreation, highways and a Superfund site,” trustee Kevin Ryan said during the meeting. “It is crazy.”

The trustees discussed moving ahead with the purchase of the land, which is owned by CenturyLink, as another strategy to block development. The board directed the town staff to see if it could enlist CenturyLink as an ally in opposing Highlands.

Broomfield Mayor Randy Ahrens recounted his city’s efforts to negotiated higher standards, through “Best Management Practices,” with Extraction Oil & Gas, which include larger setbacks of drill sites from homes.

Ahrens raised the option of enacting a moratorium on drilling as long as it was limited. “There is an opportunity to start a moratorium on oil and gas for six months. You could do that at the next meeting.”

The trustees made itclear to the overflow-crowd meeting, which had people sitting on the floor, that theywould oppose Highlands plan.

“Whatever resources you need,” Ryan told Magely, “this has to be a priority.”


Special to The Colorado Sun Twitter: @bymarkjaffe