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Colorado schools near proposed fracking could gain funding, but families worry for possible health risks

“I don't think fracking near any school is the right answer,” says concerned parent
Monica Aldridge and Christa Burke Aurora fracking concerns
Posted at 5:45 PM, Nov 10, 2023
and last updated 2023-11-10 21:28:05-05

AURORA, Colo. — Christa Burke and Monica Aldridge have been friends since they moved to Aurora’s Southshore neighborhood just one day apart two years ago.

Their families wanted a quiet community with access to nature and great schools.

“We moved into this neighborhood, in particular, because it's part of the Cherry Creek School District, which is known for its excellence. And so, we were very excited,” said Burke, who has two sons in middle and high school.

"This neighborhood is full of young families with young children," said Aldridge, whose three children also go to the local schools. But soon after buying their new homes, she said they got “a surprise, and not a happy one.”

Just east of their neighborhood, beyond the Aurora Reservoir, the oil and gas company Civitas is proposing to drill more than 170 wells.

“They're going to do fracking very close by with young children,” Aldridge said.

360 fracking aurora reservoir 1.jpg

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Aurora community fights against oil and gas drilling near their homes

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Burke, Aldridge and many of their neighbors are pushing back against the planned fracking through a grassroots group called Save the Aurora Reservoir.

“Most of the neighborhood was unhappy, and our fears related really to the health impacts of fracking near homes and schools,” Burke said. "We have at least three elementary schools, two middle schools and a high school that are all within the map where the [horizontal drilling from the] wells will go underneath.”

Aurora schools near proposed oil and gas fracking
Altitude Elementary School, Fox Ridge Middle School and Cherokee Trail High School are among the schools nearby the proposed oil and gas operations on Lowry Ranch east of the Aurora Reservoir.

If Colorado’s oversight agency, the Energy and Carbon Management Commission, and Arapahoe County approve the proposed fracking, the operator will drill the wells at the Lowry Ranch, sprawling grasslands owned by Colorado’s State Land Board.

Kristin Kemp, a spokesperson for the land board, told Denver7 this summer that Colorado owns the Lowry Ranch land and minerals, and rents it out to companies, including oil and gas producers.

Civitas is already operating several wells on the Lowry Ranch, since the company acquired an existing lease from the energy giant ConocoPhillips in 2020. Civitas hopes to incorporate those wells into its larger proposed project for the ranch.

“It's been leased here for oil and gas development for almost 100 years already,” Kemp said. “The rent we collect helps fund public schools.”

Crestone Peak Civitas Lowry Ranch oil and gas wells
Civitas's subsidiary Crestone Peak Resources is already operating wells on the Lowry Ranch aquired from ConocoPhillips.

The State Land Board has collected $1.5 billion for public schools from oil and gas operations over the last 15 years.

Civitas estimates its proposed fracking on the Lowry Ranch could generate about $640 million for public schools in the first 15 years of operations, including both royalties paid to the State Land Board and property tax revenues, according to a statement provided to Denver7. Civitas also estimates the Lowry Ranch operations could help fund Arapahoe County more broadly with more than $400 million in public revenues.

"It's wonderful to have more money for schools, it is very necessary. But this might not be the best way to do it,” Aldridge said.

Her neighbor Burke agrees.

“I don't think … the benefits that come from funding for the schools outweigh the costs of our children's health. It doesn't cover the health care costs that come along with chronic illnesses like asthma or childhood cancer,” she said.

Colin Westerfield and Aryn Anderson Aurora fracking

Follow Up

Aurora family shares 'frustrating' experience fighting proposed fracking site

Angelika Albaladejo
4:45 PM, Oct 19, 2023

Denver7 asked the Cherry Creek School District for an on-camera interview about these concerns. Instead, they provided us with an emailed statement.

“We continue to monitor Arapahoe County’s rulemaking process as it relates to oil and gas operations in our community. We will continue to engage in conversations as needed, including with the Arapahoe County Public Health Department, as we consider the health and safety of students and staff,” Cherry Creek Schools said.

Civitas said it has “engaged the [Cherry Creek School] District in conversations and have made ourselves available to answer any questions it may have.” The company also said it has “been working with the State Land Board for more than a year to plan and prepare for our oil and natural gas development that aligns with the State Land Board’s robust stewardship requirements.”

Still, parents like Burke and Aldridge are calling for the state and county to increase the distance of setbacks between oil and gas wells and schools.

"We just need to stand up and protect all of our kids,” Aldridge said. “I don't think that fracking near any school is the right answer.”

Schools near proposed fracking could gain funding, but families worry for possible health risks

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