Aurora OKs $9.5 million fracking water deal with Anadarko

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AURORA | Anadarko Petroleum Corp. will purchase $9.5 million worth of “used” water from Aurora for its oil and gas drilling operations across the state, under a contract approved by Aurora City Council members on July 9.

The deal, which some Aurora residents heavily criticized at the meeting, was approved on a vote of  8 to 3 with council members Debi Hunter Holen, Renie Peterson and Molly Markert opposed.

Despite regular protests against fracking, including dozens of critics at a city council meeting Monday night, Aurora lawmakers approved a deal to sell $9.5 million worth of “used” Aurora water for outstate oil and gas fracking.

About 35 residents from Aurora and surrounding cities attended the meeting to condemn Aurora council members for selling water to the company, and many of them spoke at the meeting. Four people spoke in support of the deal.

Several people who disapproved of the agreement between the city and Anadarko have also spoken against hydraulic fracturing within city limits. Before council members voted, they said they were concerned about the environmental impacts of hydraulic fracturing, and thought the city’s water should be kept for its residents in times of need.

“I don’t want to know in 10 years that someone in my family has cancer or something else because it was more important to make a dollar selling this water to this company,” said Zully Salazar, a Denver resident who lives in the Green Valley Ranch community.

Paula Nicholas, a professor at the Community College of Aurora, said she knows about 1,000 people who oppose hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” and feel like their voices aren’t being heard.

“It seems like no matter how many people are here, it never effects the change,” she said. “It seems like a foregone conclusion what the decision is tonight.”

The water lease was negotiated in an executive session in June, and July 9 was the first time the public has had a chance to comment on the issue before council members voted.

Councilman Bob LeGare said council members will have a discussion on July 23 about how to get information about future deals like this out to the public sooner.

The people who spoke in support of the deal included Tom Coker, president of the Heritage Eagle Bend Metropolitan District 2, and Kevin Hougen, president of the Aurora Chamber of Commerce.

“It’s an amazing financial offer for us to use our used water as an asset,” Hougen said. He said he represented the business community, which included more than 1,200 members representing more than 250,000 employees. “This is a smart business deal and there’s no reason the city of Aurora should not go through with the water sale to Anadarko,” Hougen said.

Anadarko is planning to pay Aurora Water to use 1,500 acre feet of “effluent” water per year over five years. The company will be paying four times the market rate for the city’s effluent water, or water that has already been used and treated that would otherwise flow downstream and out of the state.

The water is sanitary but not potable or made available for public use. That equals to about $1,200 per acre foot, whereas the market rate is about $350 per acre foot.

John Christiansen, a spokesman for Anadarko, said the company is looking to lease water for its drilling operations in the Wattenberg field, a sprawling oil and gas field along the northern Front Range.

The agreement is called a water “lease” because under Colorado law, Anadarko is obtaining the ability to use the water over the 5 year term of the lease, but ownership of the water rights remain with Aurora, said Aurora Water Spokesman Greg Baker. The city regularly leases water when they do not have the ability to utilize it at any particular time, but by city charter, cannot sell their water rights, Baker said.

Council members Melissa Miller, Bob LeGare, Barb Cleland, Bob Broom, Brad Pierce, Marsha Berzins and Bob Roth and Mayor Steve Hogan approved the deal.

“I think this is a great deal for Aurora taxpayers,” Miller said.

Peterson said she’s worried that this contract will set a precedent, and soon the city will be selling potable water to Anadarko as well.

“We can say ‘no, you can’t have our water,’ and then they’ll have to truck it in from somewhere else and someone else can sell them the water,” Peterson said.

 

Reach reporter Sara Castellanos at 720-449-9036 or [email protected]