Boulder County Commissioners File Lawsuits Against Oil and Gas Companies Crestone Peak and 8 North
Boulder County Commissioners on Tuesday continued their fight against oil and gas firms tapping distant minerals from multi-pad drilling sites by filing two lawsuits naming drilling companies — Crestone Peak Resources and 8 North — as defendants.
The county is suing Crestone Peak Resources over its plans to drill 140 wells that would drain 10 square miles on three multi-well pads along Colo. 52 north of Erie. It is suing 8 North — which it has already named in a separate lawsuit filed last month — over a proposal to drill 32 wells on two pads along East County Line Road that would drain 2,720 acres in Boulder County. That site is the focus of both county suits naming the company.
But while last month’s suit against 8 North centers on claims the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission failed to ensure the company owns the appropriate mineral leases and that the company did not prove it owned the mineral leases for the areas it plans to drill, the suits filed Tuesday allege Crestone’s and 8 North’s mineral leases are either expired or would be violated if they were included in either company’s plans.
Both of the complaints were filed Tuesday in Boulder County District Court.
The suits also claim the Crestone and 8 North proposals to put multi-well pads on land with Boulder County conservation easements violate a Colorado law that prohibits parties from “injuring or destroying conservation values,” a statement from the county alleged. The suits further contend that other mineral rights leases prohibit their oil and gas from being pooled into drilling areas as large as those companies are planning to drain.
In all, the county is contesting 10 mineral leases owned by Crestone and six owned by 8 North, Boulder County Senior Assistant Attorney Kate Burke said.
The 8 North well pad site in question is in Weld County, just across the county line southeast of the intersection of East County Line Road and Weld County Road 20 ½ , but Boulder County has an agricultural conservation easement on the land.
All three Crestone well pads would be jeopardized if Boulder County is successful with its case because they sit on conservation easements.
“Because conservation easements, by their nature, limit the use and development of the land, defendants have targeted those open, undeveloped lands as places in which they wish to locate their industrial, for-profit oil and gas activities,” Boulder County’s complaint against 8 North states.
The Colorado Oil and Gas Association industry group slammed Boulder County for filing the lawsuits.
“Multiple lawsuits paid on the backs of taxpayers are not the answer. Operators have been in close communication with the Boulder County staff and are giving every effort to find win-win scenarios,” the association’s spokesman Scott Prestidge said in a statement. “Ultimately a political agenda can’t override legitimate private propriety rights, and we would hope the county would work toward mutually beneficial solutions, rather than take it to the courts.”
Spokespersons for Extraction Oil and Gas, of which 8 North is a subsidiary, said company officials would not comment on pending litigation.
Crestone spokesman Jason Oates noted Boulder County applied the conservation easements in question knowing there were underlying mineral leases.
“The idea that we are targeting open space is not necessarily accurate when the mineral lease under the open space predates the (county’s) surface purchase,” Oates said. “We’ve dedicated almost two years to this process with the idea that there is compromise. We hope we can work through all of this with all the different stakeholders, including Boulder County.”
The county, whenever possible, tries to purchase the mineral rights underlying a property’s surface when it buys a parcel to designate as open space, the lawsuits state. The county owns some mineral rights within all the areas proposed to be drilled by 8 North and Crestone, according to the suits.
Most of the mineral rights leases Boulder County has called into question were created in the 1980s and early 1990s, with some even written in the 1970s, according to the lawsuits.
“These really large horizontal well pads were not allowed under those pre-existing leases,” Burke said, highlighting the novelty of the technology that allows for horizontal drilling.
The county claims the rights to drill minerals from land pertaining to some of leases have expired because there were time limits that dictated drilling must occur before a certain date.
The county has asked the courts to turn over some of the mineral rights in question to Boulder County, and for declaratory judgements stating the oil and gas companies have breached the leases the county claims have expired or would be violated by either company’s plans.
“The nature of oil and gas drilling has changed dramatically in recent years, resulting in intensive, large-scale surface impacts to enable multi-mile-long directional drilling,” Boulder County Commissioner Elise Jones said in a statement. “Those old leases didn’t envision that the property could be harmed by a multi-well mega-pad used to frack minerals located miles away.
“It’s our duty to safeguard the environment and people of Boulder County and these lawsuits are our implementation of that responsibility. No one is above the law — including oil and gas companies.”
Online Colorado court records show Boulder District Judge Nancy Woodruff Salomone will hear the county’s case against 8 North, and Judge Thomas Francis Mulvahill will hear the case against Crestone Peak.
Sam Lounsberry: 303-473-1322, email@example.com and twitter.com/samlounz .