Oct. 24–A group of Broomfield residents using the name Residents Rights has partnered with WildEarth Guardians in filing a lawsuit against the City and County of Broomfield and its manager Charles Ozaki, demanding protections for public health and safety amid oil and gas drilling plans that recently were approved.
The suit was filed Oct. 8 in Broomfield District Court and Broomfield officials were served this week.
Ozaki administratively approved a comprehensive drilling plan with Extraction Oil & Gas, Inc. in September.
Broomfield resident Jennifer Dulles said the lawsuit is related to ballot issue 301, an initiative overwhelmingly passed by Broomfield voters in Nov. 2017 that codified the health, safety and welfare of Broomfield residents as the primary metric by which oil and gas projects in the county would be approved or denied.
“It’s based on the Constitution and that we have the right to citizens’initiatives,” she said Tuesday morning. “We passed one of those/, and it’s not being upheld.”
WildEarth Guardians is a nonprofit with offices in seven western states that seeks to protect and restore wildlife, rivers and wild places. Residents Rights is made up entirely of affected residents and has eight board members, along with membership.
The lawsuit not only seeks to enforce health and safety requirements that were put forward by and approved by residents, but also seeks to defend the power of citizen initiatives.
It alleges Ozaki unlawfully approved a Comprehensive Drilling Plan allowing Extraction to drill and frack 84 new wells in Broomfield. The plaintiffs say it was passed “despite the plan’s failure to comply with the requirements of the Broomfield/Extraction Operator Agreement or the city’s own charter and ordinances.”
Anne Lane, Director of Communications and Governmental Affairs, said Broomfield was notified of a lawsuit on Tuesday.
“The City Attorney’s Office and City Manager’s Office are currently reviewing and analyzing the complaint,” she said in a statement on behalf of the city. “The city spent many months negotiating with Extraction Oil and Gas to include the most protective best management practices in Colorado in the Operator Agreement and implemented those in the comprehensive drilling plan.”
The best management practices include measures to protect public health, safety and welfare consistent with Broomfield’s charter, she said, and well-beyond anything provided in state law.
The county has 21 days to respond to the lawsuit.
The plaintiffs and their attorneys, Katherine Merlin and James Leftwich, both of Boulder, held a news conference Tuesday afternoon at Anthem Community Park, 15633 Sheridan Parkway. More than 20 people attended the event, which was live-streamed and can be found on the Wild EarthGuardian website.
Plaintiffs hope the lawsuit will invalidate the approval of Extraction’s drilling plan and also plan to argue that Broomfield violated open meetings laws. Merlin said the lawsuit is filed in a way that will allow for plaintiffs to expound on those claims in the future.
If Broomfield files a motion to dismiss, a judge will review both sides and may dismiss all or some of the claims. Extraction is listed as an interested party since they could be impacted by the lawsuit.
Part of the lawsuit asks is for a permanent injunction precluding further development under the operator agreement “unless and until approval of such development is lawful.”
“Broomfield has been under increasing pressure from the oil and gas industry as it moves drilling and fracking operations into more densely populated areas,” a release from the plaintiffs states. “Although some development occurred in Broomfield, primarily in the northeast corner in the 1990s and early 2000s, new drilling plans for mega well pads would lead to more intensive development and heightened risks to public health and safety.”
Initiative 301 amended the Broomfield Charter to allow oil and gas development “only if it does not adversely impact the health, safety, and welfare of residents, wildlife or the environment.”
The lawsuit claims that Ozaki authorized the plan “without including crucial conditions to assess, disclose, and prevent risks to public health and safety, including conditions required by the Operator Agreement.”
Residents have called for more stringent limits on drilling and fracking as concern has grown over the impacts of oil and gas development to the health and safety of Colorado residents, according to the release.
“Broomfield engaged in a ten-month process of amending its Operator Agreement with Extraction in 2017, only a few months after it made amendments in 2016,” plaintiff attorney Merlin said in a statement. “Then it folded in the face of legal threats from Extraction, and approved this drilling dlan which doesn’t even comply with that Agreement, or with Broomfield’s Charter. The people of Broomfield deserve better than to have an unelected City Manager approving a non-compliant Plan which won’t protect them or their families from serious threats like explosions, fires, or toxic spills and leaks.”
Tom Yeager, a member of the Broomfield Oil and Gas Comprehensive Plan Update Committee, said that group put the health, safety, welfare and environment of the community as its top priority.
“The Broomfield constituents later amended the Broomfield charter to condition oil and gas development to only occur in a manner that does not adversely impact the health, safety and welfare of its citizens,” Yeager said. “This suit is about enforcing these core values, which city officials have so far disregarded when making decisions concerning fracking operations within the city and county.”
Vince Miller, Anthem Ranch resident and retired geophysicist and meteorologist, said he is very much aware of the hazards posed by potential mega-sized oil and gas operations in Broomfield.
“I am disappointed our city council has not followed the dictates of initiative 301 as passed by Broomfield voters: to ensure oil and gas development in Broomfield will not adversely impact the health, safety, and welfare of Broomfield’s residents in their workplaces, their homes, their schools, and public parks,” he said.
Jeremy Nichols, Climate and Energy Program Director for WildEarth Guardians, said in a statement that the organization is honored to be a part of this effort to defend residents.
“The oil and gas industry needs to be held accountable to the very real risks their operations pose to residents in Broomfield and beyond,” Nichols said.
Broomfield resident Cristen Logan said residents have pleaded with city officials to listen to their people and defend public interest.
“Unfortunately, they’ve refused to take seriously their duty to represent Broomfield residents and uphold the law,” Logan said. “A lawsuit isn’t what we wanted to see happen, but we have been left with no other recourse.”
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