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The independent oil and gas company KP Kauffman has been ordered to shut in shut 87 of its wells and clean up 29 sites in Adams and Weld counties. (Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission)

KP Kauffman, an independent oil and gas operator on the Front Range, has been ordered to shut 87 of its wells and clean up 29 sites after a litany of violations, ranging from fouling farm fields to covering the road in front of a high school with oily waste. 

The wells, located in Adams and Weld counties, “require immediate attention to protect public health, safety, welfare, the environment, and wildlife resources,” the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission order says.

Many of the spills and releases are serious threats, the order says, but the company, referred to as KPK, has not taken necessary steps to avoid, minimize or mitigate their potential impacts.

“All of the wells that are in the order have been shut-in” and may not resume production until the sites are cleaned up, COGCC spokeswoman Megan Castle said. “KPK has not yet completed enough remediation or submitted enough documentation to close the order. So it is a work in progress.”

Ross Watzman, the Denver-based company’s general counsel, said in an email Thursday that “KPK has ensured that there are no active releases, and is working diligently to remedy all COGCC concerns.”

Watzman also said that the family-owned company, which has been doing business in Colorado for more than 37 years, disagrees with some of the allegations and facts in the order.

Adams County Commissioner Eva Henry said “KPK is one of the operators we’ve had trouble with.” 

County oil and gas inspectors checked 35 KPK wells in 2020 and found violations at 18.  KPK has 1,114 wells in Colorado, of which 1,031 are producing, according to the COGCC.

“They tend to ignore our notices of violation, so it is great to see the COGCC taking action,” Henry said. “This helps tremendously.”

Between Jan. 1, 2015, and March 30, KPK reported about 85 spills and releases and opened approximately 73 remediation projects in Colorado, according to the order. 

Still, KPK “repeatedly failed” with basic requirements for spills, the order said, citing 10 cases where remediation took more than six months and four cases where it took more than two years.

The company’s action put homes, schools and groundwater at risk, the order said.

Many of the spills are the result of failing flowlines, which carry oil, water and gas from a well to a gathering point. KPK would shut-off the leaking line, send a crew focused on repairing it and getting production flowing again, but would leave piles of oily waste untended.

“KPK has been unable, or unwilling, to commit the attention and resources that are required to adequately address these matters,” the state order says. “KPK’s failure to perform the required work due to an alleged lack of resources is not acceptable and presents an ongoing threat.”

In many cases it was area residents, farmers or local officials — not the company — that reported the spills to the COGCC. 

“Across the industry in Colorado, this is very unusual,” the order said. “In COGCC’s experience, oil and gas operators in the state usually find and report their own spills to

COGCC before surface owners or third parties do.”

In March 2019, oil surfaced on the north side of Tipple Parkway in Frederick, directly across from the town’s high school and 40 feet from the closest residence. The Town of Frederick informed KPK about the leaking flow line.

The company repaired the line and put it back in service, but the line disrupted traffic through the next summer as oil wastes were flushed across the parkway when it rained, and fluids washed into storm sewers. 

There may be an ongoing threat to soil and groundwater, but KPK never returned to do any follow-up assessment or remediation, the order said.

Jennifer Simmons, Federick’s planning director and the town’s liaison with the COGCC, said there are no longer incidents of oily waste on Tipple Parkway.

The first notice that there was a KPK flowline leak in rural Weld County in November 2018 came from farmers. 

The company began excavating the site to address the leak, but nearly 30 months later remedial excavation is still pending and excavation done to access the flowline for repairs is still open.

“After the flowline was repaired, KPK left their equipment in our field for many months,” Brittney White, of Fort Lupton, wrote in a January complaint to the COGCC. 

“The soil that they replaced the contaminated soil with was not quality top soil. Corn would not grow on the location in 2018, 2019, or 2020,” White said. “We lost literally years in crop production and there is no excuse.”

The New Brantner Ditch, which runs through rural Adams and Weld counties and was originally dug in 1860 by Samuel Brantner, was another victim of a KPK flowline spill — first reported by a tenant farmer west of Fort Lupton — in June 2020.

The spill was adjacent to the irrigation ditch and hydrocarbon fluids migrated from the spill area in the flowing waters of the ditch, the order said. KPK attempted to contain the fluids with booms, but excavation of the spill ended up collapsing the sidewalls of the ditch.

KPK failed to consult with the ditch company, as is required by the rules, and entered its right-of-way and excavated without notification.

KPK told the COGCC it had consulted with the ditch company, but the ditch company’s board of directors denied there was any consultation, the order said.

The ditch cannot be used until KPK has repaired the damaged section, the order said.

Brice Steele, the ditch company’s attorney, said the board has not authorized any comment in response to questions by The Sun.

UPDATED: This story was updated May 28, 2021, at 6:21 a.m. to include comments from KP Kauffman’s lawyer.

Mark Jaffe

Special to The Colorado Sun Twitter: @bymarkjaffe