Jared Polis sues to stop fracking next to his Weld County property, Boulder congressman seeks restraining order against energy firm, subsequently drops lawsuit

Jared Polis drops lawsuit over fracking near his property, but may refile, Boulder congressman sees new role as ‘poster boy’ in hot-button issue by Charlie Brennan, July 26, 2013, Daily Camera
A scheduled court hearing in the dispute over drilling for natural gas on a property across the street from U.S. Rep. Jared Polis’s weekend getaway in unincorporated Weld County was scuttled Friday when the congressman withdrew his complaint — while retaining the right to refile it. Before the day was over, both sides fired verbal volleys in a controversy that saw the Boulder congressman representing Colorado’s 2nd Congressional District center stage in the latest local drama around hydraulic fracturing — fracking, to its detractors. Lawyers for the company doing the drilling, Sundance Energy Inc., of Denver, had filed their own motion in Denver District Court the previous day to dismiss Polis’s complaint. The company argued that since the energy extraction was permitted earlier this year as required by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, any dispute must first be taken up by the commission, prior to any involvement by the courts. The energy company’s argument was not heard or ruled on by Denver District Judge Kenneth Laff, since it was soon made moot by Polis’s own motion to dismiss his complaint “without prejudice,” meaning it could be refiled at a later time. Polis’s filings are in the name of Mountain Property Improvement LLC, the holding company which has title to Polis’s Weld County property.

Polis also has lodged an official complaint over the drilling with the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, alleging that the activity “created an uninhabitable atmosphere, substantially and unreasonably interfering with the occupancy of my property.” An on-site inspection was carried out by the state in response to that complaint Wednesday.

On Friday, Sundance Energy released this statement: “Sundance Energy is gratified that this unfounded lawsuit was dropped by Rep. Jared Polis because the claims were completely without merit. The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, an independent state agency, conducted an inspection of our operations yesterday and did not find any violations related to the congressman’s allegations.”

The company added: “Sundance Energy is committed to conducting our operations responsibly and being a good citizen of Weld County and everywhere else we operate. As such, the company is voluntarily installing a noise mitigating barrier and stands ready to discuss any remaining concerns related to our operations. We hope these good faith efforts can set a more positive, constructive tone for any future issues that may arise.”

Meanwhile, Polis visited his 50-acre property just east of Berthoud on Friday for the first time since drilling equipment suddenly appeared there July 18. Seeing the drilling underway firsthand did little to mute his anger. “It’s been totally transformed,” he said of his rural neighborhood. “It’s just… you can’t live here. Our lives are upended. I don’t know what the future holds. There’s very little you can do, under Colorado law.” … “Weld County is really completely wild in this regard,” said Polis, speaking from his property on Weld County Road 5. “Homeowners have no rights other than that which they have under Colorado law. And I think people will look warily upon moving to Weld County for that very reason, and it hurts their long-term prospects.” … Pointing out that Weld County’s only authority in regulating the energy extraction industry involves issuing permits to access the concerned property, Rademacher said everything else is out of Weld County’s hands. He did note, however, that the county last year started offering free testing of residents’ well water.

The dispute is being monitored by Energy In Depth, a research, education and public outreach [propaganda] campaign of the Independent Petroleum Association of America. “This lawsuit was active just long enough for the congressman to grab some headlines and generate some publicity for his anti-industry political views,” said Courtney Loper, the organization’s mountain states field director. “In fact, it looks an awful lot like the congressman started suing people and pitching stories to the media before he even filed a complaint with the state of Colorado.”

Loper cited the follow-up report to Polis’s complaint on file with the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. It confirms that a site inspection was performed Wednesday, and states, “No odors were identified except engine exhaust,” and that wind conditions precluded a noise survey. It also showed that a state inspector worked with a Sundance representative on noise mitigation, forklift operation and installation of a noise wall on the northwest side of location. [Emphasis added]

Jared Polis sues to stop fracking next to his Weld County property, Boulder congressman seeks restraining order against energy firm by Charlie Brennan, July 25, 2013, Daily Camera
For U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, the battle over fracking just turned personal. Polis, a Boulder Democrat who represents Colorado’s 2nd Congressional District, was shocked to see a fracking operation start up last week on land just across the street from a rural getaway he owns in Weld County near Berthoud. Through the holding company that has title to the congressman’s 50-acre property, Polis this week filed a complaint in Denver District Court seeking a temporary restraining order. His goal is to shut the drilling down. “I’m going public and talking about it because it’s happening to a lot of other people in Colorado,” Polis told the Daily Camera. “This can happen to anybody. It can happen to you. It can happen to your neighbor. It can happen to your congressman. The laws in Colorado are outrageously out of touch in terms of protecting property.” The complaint filed Monday in Denver District Court by Mountain Property Improvement LLC names Denver-based Sundance Energy Inc. and Polis’s neighboring property owner as defendants. A hearing is scheduled in Denver on Friday morning on Polis’s request for the temporary restraining order. A Sundance Energy spokesman on Thursday said the company would “respectfully decline to comment” on the case since it is currently pending in court.

Officials with Energy in Depth, a research, education and public outreach campaign organized through the Independent Petroleum Association of America, declined to comment on the merits of the complaint without having the opportunity to review all of the case materials. Polis authored a guest opinion on his dilemma that will appear in Sunday’s edition of the Camera. In his 800-word commentary, Polis wrote, “For years, I have fought for sensible fracking laws — I have written op-eds, introduced legislation to close oil and gas loopholes in the Clean Air Act, and I have even testified before the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission. I did all that because I have been concerned about the impact that fracking has on the health of communities as well as the economic impact as it relates to property value. But now it is personal, like it has already been for so many of my constituents.”

Polis also wrote: “I am going to pursue every avenue available to me to stop this from ruining my home. But under Colorado law, our options are limited.” … Meanwhile, Polis expressed outrage over learning how powerless he — or anyone else — can be in the face of a business’s determination to exploit its mineral rights. “This shouldn’t be any different than if somebody was trying to build a factory right next door to us,” Polis said. “It’s a slightly different kind of factory, but every bit as damaging to the quality of life in the neighborhood. It was built before we even had a chance to raise an objection.” According to the complaint filed in Denver District Court, trucks and equipment appeared around July 18 on the land directly across Weld County Road 5 from Polis’s property, which he described in the interview as a “small farm” of about 50 acres east of Berthoud. Within days, a drilling rig was standing on his neighbor’s property, estimated to be no more than 50 feet from the foot of Polis’s driveway. Drilling operations began a short time later, according to the suit, to the distress of Perry Reis, the father of Polis’s partner. Reis is identified in the complaint as the property’s caretaker, and lives there much of the time with his daughter. By the evening of July 21, according to the complaint, Reis “was unable to continue working at the guest house located on the property because of a strong, noxious odor that accompanied the drilling operations.”

In its claim for relief, the suit states that the “increased noise and noxious fumes” from the drilling operations “have encroached on the property, causing mental suffering, annoyance and the loss of use and enjoyment” of the property, and will continue to do so unless the drilling operations “are stopped, relocated or the noise and fumes are otherwise controlled,” making the property habitable.

For the time being, however, Reis and his daughter are living instead at Polis’s home in Boulder. “They’re kind of refugees from our own property, with very little recourse,’ Polis said.

‘Live the Colorado dream’
The congressman said he bought the Weld County property about 12 years ago, and it now serves as a bucolic getaway from Washington, D.C., and doing the business of his constituents in the 2nd Congressional District — which once included Weld County but, due to subsequent redistricting, now no longer does. In his guest commentary, and in an interview, Polis discussed the land’s simple pleasures, such as the eight beehives he keeps there, and the delight his young son takes in the turtles and frogs in a pond located on the property. And Polis, who is one of the wealthiest members of Congress, admitted he was in a far different position from most people who might find themselves in a similar situation. “We have neighbors who have their whole life savings invested up there. They are retired and have no alternative but to leave or sell their property. What are they going to do?” he said. “This highlights the failure of Weld County’s approach with this,” he added. “They are simply not protecting property owners… People have no rights, and oil and gas has all the rights in Weld County.” [Emphasis added]

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