State cracks down on ‘excessive flaring’ from gas sites in Weld County

DENVER -- Those familiar with oil and gas production likely know that "flaring" is a common technique used by energy producers to relieve pressure.

For those who are less familiar, it could be a terrifying sight.

That appears to be the case in Weld County, where over the course of 2017 and 2018, residents near Johnstown and Milliken witnessed several incidents of flaring.

"It was kind of like blowing hairspray in a flame," said Michael Goetz, a Johnstown resident.

Goetz, who understands energy practices, thought nothing of it.

"It never concerned us, at night it was fun to watch," Goetz said.

But that wasn't the case for drivers on Interstate 25 who called 911 fearing homes were on fire.

"We received calls -- at night especially," said Battalion Chief Nat Kronholm with Front Range Fire and Rescue.

Kronholm says the calls became so frequent, they decided to take action with the state. Part of the problem, Kronholm says, is that Cub Creek Energy, the operator of the flaring site near I-25, did not inform them when a flaring event would take place.

Kronholm says each report of a structure fire would trigger an emergency response involving dozens of firefighters from multiple jurisdictions. In many cases, firefighters would be dispatched to find nothing.

"It became a little bit of a nuisance for us, for a structure fire, we have our engines and our neighboring agencies coming in with their engines," Kronholm said.

As a result of the complaint to the state, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission issued a fine of over $300,000 to Cub Creek Energy.

The final report said the company engaged in "unnecessary" and "excessive" flaring "without permission."

As part of the settlement, Front Range Fire and Rescue received a nearly $100,000 air monitoring system.

The system, which the department showed the Problem Solvers Thursday, will now help monitor air quality in Weld County during an actual emergency.

Kronholm says the department is fortunate to have the expensive devices and it plans on deploying them during future emergencies.

"They give us instant readings," Kronholm said.

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