Highlands NaturalRes (LON:HNR) applies to drill wells near former Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant

As a decision looms by Colorado voters on more stringent siting requirements for oil and gas drilling, an energy company has applied to drill up to 31 wells near the former Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant.

Highlands Natural Resources Corp., registered in the United Kingdom, applied this month to the state for a spacing plan for wells on a 2,560-acre site where it has leased minerals in the area of the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge.

Rocky Flats, between Denver and Boulder, was converted to a wildlife refuge after a $7.7 billion Superfund cleanup of a plant that produced plutonium triggers for nuclear bombs from 1952 to 1989. The Department of Energy retains control of a 1,300-acre fenced core where contaminated waste is buried.

Highlands said in a statement Wednesday that because of the public’s concern about development in the area, it “intentionally located proposed oil and gas locations outside the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge boundaries.” The company said it has contacted local, state and federal government officials about its drilling proposal.

However, the company didn’t respond to a question about whether it plans to drill underneath Rocky Flats. Gina Hardin, president of the conservation group 350 Colorado, said it appears from the company’s application that drilling would occur within the site’s boundaries.

“This is incredible,” Hardin said. “This is a graphic demonstration of just how much the industry needs our regulation, that they will not self-regulate.”

Highlands submitted five well spacing applications to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission on Oct. 18. In a post on its website the same day, the company said it planned to file applications for up to 104 wells before the Nov. 6 vote on Proposition 112.

“Although similar propositions have failed in the past, the Company has been advised that by filing the permits prior to the ballot it has minimized the potential risk posed by Proposition 112,” the post on the company’s news site stated.

Proposition 112, if adopted by voters, would require wells on private lands be at least 2,500 feet from homes, schools, waterways and other areas considered vulnerable, such as public parks and open spaces and irrigation canals. The current required setback is 500 feet from homes and 1,000 feet from densely occupied buildings, like hospitals and schools.

By Judith Kohler The Denver Post


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