Court blocks Broomfield’s attempt to temporarily halt Extraction’s oil and gas operations

Broomfield officials are considering an order to temporarily stop an oil and gas operation because of coronavirus health concerns, but first they face an order of their own.

Broomfield city and county elected officials, acting as the county board of health, scheduled a meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday to discuss an order that would put on hold plans by Extraction Oil and Gas.

But Extraction, which wants to start flow back work in mid-April, was granted a temporary restraining order from a state district court. The judge on Friday blocked Broomfield from issuing a public health order. The restraining order is in effect for 14 days.

A vote on the public health order was planned for Tuesday, but elected officials instead will discuss how to proceed, said Guyleen Castriotta, Broomfield mayor pro tem. Broomfield has asked the court to lift the restraining order.

Last week, city and county officials directed the staff to prepare an order halting flow-back operations by Extraction. Company representatives and experts working for the city said Extraction’s plans and equipment for the work are intended to greatly reduce harmful emissions.

However, Broomfield health officials said they are concerned about the potential impacts on residents in the area, including a nearby development for people 55 and older. During a hearing last week, they referred to studies showing that harmful emissions, including cancer-causing benzene, are much higher during flow back.

Elected officials said they proposed the health order after Extraction refused to postpone the work on the 18-well pad while the statewide stay-at-home order to stem the spread of coronavirus is in effect.

Jason Vahling, the Broomfield manager of public health and environment, said that stress caused by the oil and gas operations could lead to complications for at-risk people if they contract the virus.

District Judge Robert W. Kiesnowski, in granting the temporary restraining order, wrote that Extraction “offered ample evidence” that Broomfield’s plan is “factually and legally baseless.” He also wrote that the plan conflicts with state orders that the oil and gas industry is an essential industry during the coronavirus crisis and that it goes beyond the statewide stay-at-home mandate.

Attorneys for Broomfield said in a filing Monday the Extraction mischaracterized the proposed health order. And the statewide stay-at-home directive does not preempt Broomfield from adopting a more protective public health order, they said.

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