Broomfield Tried Limiting Oil And Gas Noise. Now A Company Is Pushing Back
When the noise rattled through Valerie Stozki’s kitchen one recent evening, she’d finally had enough. The buzzing coming from outside was loud — so loud her son couldn’t concentrate on his homework. So, she got on the city of Broomfield’s website and started typing.
“Thankfully it just stopped,” Stozki wrote in a complaint filed with the city last month. “But at 9:30 at night, I want to be sleeping. Not trying to finish up homework.”
The culprit, Stozki noted, was a new oil and gas site situated just off the highway near hundreds of homes on Broomfield’s northeast side.
More than 300 residents have filed noise complaints about the pad since last fall, calling for a return to peace and quiet as oil and gas development wades deeper into the suburban community north of Denver.
The complaints, obtained by KUNC through a public records request, describe the sound from the site, known as the Livingston pad, as everything from a “dull roar” to a “jet sitting outside my home.” Complaints also say the noise makes it difficult to sleep, watch TV or work from home on a regular basis.
In one instance, a resident described rerouting her nightly dog walking route. Her pet simply refused to get closer to the noise.
“Our area is now congested with fracking equipment and all of the problems associated with it,” wrote resident Troy Bidstrup, who has written to the city 13 times in 2020. “I used to Love living in Broomfield. I no longer feel this way.”
The city of 70,000 has seen resistance to oil and gas development in the past. But the uproar over noise has pushed local leaders to take unprecedented steps to balance the industry’s growth with its residents' needs.
In January, the city council passed an emergency noise ordinance to try to quiet the new project at night, saying it posed a threat to public health. The new rules limited all industrial noise levels in the city between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.
It also asked businesses in Broomfield to submit a study showing their outdoor operations weren’t too noisy.
But it hasn’t worked. Since the ordinance went into effect in late January, the city has issued at least six citations against the Livingston site’s operator, Denver-based Extraction Oil & Gas, for being too loud at night. The fines could rack up to thousands of dollars.
Still, the noise drones on, according to resident complaints.
The conflict has spilled into the local municipal court, where a judge is weighing whether the new noise limits even apply to Extraction. At an arraignment hearing on March 3, the company filed a motion to dismiss the ordinance violations.
Extraction says it's already in compliance with a previous agreement it brokered with the city in 2017 before development began.
“The emergency ordinance Broomfield is attempting to apply to us now is actually impossible to enforce because its provisions call for sound levels that are lower than ambient noise,” said Brian Cain, Extraction’s spokesman. “We have continued to go above and beyond our operator agreement and collaborate with Broomfield in various ways.”
The company has installed additional sound walls and shared noise monitoring data with the city, Cain said. Cain noted that some of the noise complaints have come in on days when crews aren’t even working.
“Extraction employees have gone to the site of noise complaints shortly after they are filed only to hear no sound,” he said. “There are complaints coming from homes where the neighbors next door report hearing nothing. Clearly, this is a complex issue for everyone involved.”
But Broomfield city council members see the issue more clearly.
“We have an operator that came into Broomfield and said they wanted to be the best in class,” said Laurie Anderson, a city council member who supports the new noise ordinance. “We’re not seeing that.”
Anderson said she believes the new ordinance trumps the original operator agreement.
“It’s going to be up to the court to decide,” she said. “I hope the court says that a city has the right to uphold an ordinance to protect the health and safety of their residents.”
The Broomfield judge overseeing the case said he hoped to resolve the issue as quickly as possible, due to the ongoing public health concerns. He is expected to take the matter up again on March 31.
In the meantime, the city has also commissioned its own study of the Livingston site to better understand the noise problem. Broomfield officials have even reached out to Governor Jared Polis and the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission for help.
The city is also looking at other measures to better protect residents health and safety following the last year’s passage of Senate Bill 181. The law gives more regulatory power to local governments like Broomfield.
In December, Broomfield extended its moratorium on new oil and gas projects through the beginning of June 2020. The move lets the city council take more time to enact new regulations, such as larger setback distances for future wells from homes and schools.