Superior Thrust into Oil and Gas Debate As Drilling Near Rocky Flats Looms

November 13, 2018

Longmont Times-Call

An oil and gas company’s foray across Superior town limits has foisted the town reluctantly into the latest Front Range drilling debate.

Highlands Natural Resources Corp., registered in the United Kingdom, last month applied to the state for a spacing plan for wells on a 2,560-acre site where records suggest it has leased minerals in the area of Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge.

The proposal in question would allow for drilling up to 31 wells on land near the former Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant — a small undeveloped portion of Superior situated within Jefferson County at the intersection of McCaslin Boulevard and Colo. 128 — and eventually usher horizontal extraction deep across the site’s boundaries, town officials say.

The company’s application indicates the site would hold 62 oil and water tanks and 31 separators next to a town-owned 500,000 gallon water tank, just up the road from the town’s largest residential development, Rock Creek.

Apart from heralding the end to Superior’s drilling-free borders — a condition punctuated by the town’s scant references to oil and gas in its code — and its proximity to large-scale housing, the proposal’s designs to drill horizontally across Rocky Flats has residents and advocates sounding familiar alarms. The portion of Rocky Flats between Denver and Boulder was converted to a wildlife refuge — a decision at the heart of several lawsuits — after a $7.7 billion Superfund cleanup of a plant that produced plutonium triggers for nuclear bombs throughout the Cold War.

Critics have pointed to the risks associated with drill line fails occurring beneath the site, suggesting such an event could disturb the plutonium-laden soil above.

The combination has prompted a call to arms from Superior residents since the proposal’s unveiling last month, and the unorganized resistance on display at Monday’s town meeting — where a hastily-convened work session among outgoing and elected trustees on the issue drew upward of 100 residents to the quaint chambers — was reminiscent of neighboring efforts.

At the top of the meeting, Mayor Clint Folsom sought to reassure residents.

“We are absolutely 100 percent opposed to oil and gas drilling in Superior,” he said to a round of applause. “We are going to turn over every stone ... and do everything in our power to make sure it doesn’t happen.”

For the uninitiated, oil and gas attorney Matt Sura gave a crash course Monday on the local powers — land use authority and general police powers — used to regulate oil and gas with the familiar caveat that local control does not preempt state regulations, which has often stymied municipalities’ more radical approaches.

Highlands Natural Resources filed the plans ahead of a statewide referendum on severe setback expansions. That measure, Proposition 112, was defeated by more than 10 percentage points in last week’s election.

Efforts made Monday to reach Highlands representatives regarding the local pushback were unsuccessful, though in an interview last month with the Denver Post, the company suggested that because of the outcry, it “intentionally located proposed oil and gas locations outside the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge boundaries.”

According to Jefferson County Assessor property records, the land in question is owned by CenturyLink — company representatives also could not be reached for comment Monday.

Public comment on the drilling plans has been extended into December, Superior Town Manager Matt Magley said Monday, adding that the town has been granted a consultation process that allows officials to voice their concerns about the project to the state.

If the project is eventually approved, the town would have 10 days to file a formal protest.

Anthony Hahn: 303-473-1422, hahna@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/_anthonyhahn

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