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Neighbors still coping with Marshall Fire wanted more warning about oil and gas site malfunction

Neighbors wish they'd been notified about a plume of black smoke coming from an oil and gas pad after a malfunction.

BROOMFIELD, Colo — On Jan. 14, Amber Wey's dashcam recorded a flame and a dark black plume of smoke from the Civitas Resources oil and gas pad near the intersection of Northwest Parkway and Sheridan Parkway.

While picking up her kids from a nearby Broomfield school, Cristen Logan snapped a photo of that black smoke coming from the pad.

"I was pretty convinced there was a fire happening," Logan said.

"I've always been nervous having oil and gas operations this close to my home and schools, but the Marshall Fire absolutely changed my perspective on my safety in terms of fires in this area," she said. "I am way more hyper-aware of fires now than I was before."

Pam Wanek lives in unincorporated Adams County just south of the oil and gas site.

"I witnessed a large black plume of smoke over 100 feet high from my back door," Wanek said.

"We had no idea what was even going on. I have horses. My neighbors all have horses. Evacuation is a bit of a process," she said.

According to the city and county of Broomfield and Civitas Resources, the flame and resulting smoke were not a fire.

"You're essentially seeing the restart of the facility," said Brian Cain, Chief Sustainability Officer for Civitas Resources.

The malfunction was not what was visible to residents.

"Hours earlier, an operational malfunction had occurred on one of the pieces of equipment that are used to separate gas and condensate," Cain said. "All the wells on the facility shut in to ensure that you don't have a real incident of concern."

He said the equipment was replaced, and when the system was restarted, it sent liquids that were trapped in the pipes to a combustor.

"That's what you see as a flash and some smoke, as those resources are essentially being incinerated," Cain said. "When you have condensate go to a combustor to be combusted, it's actually similar to throwing a piece of bacon or something greasy on a barbecue grill."

"Your safety mechanism, as you saw it, worked, but that still doesn't give me a lot of comfort," Wanek said.

Both Wanek and Logan believe the counties should have notified them about the situation, even if there was nothing to be concerned about.

"There was nothing that was put out immediately, saying 'Yes, this event occurred. We understand. We're investigating,'" Logan said. "Communication was really, really lackluster."

"I believe that we should have had a reverse 911 or some CodeRED identification saying that the plume that we saw was not a problem. That everything was under control," Wanek said.

The site is in Broomfield County. According to a city and county spokeswoman, Broomfield was in direct communication with the operator during the event, and police and fire determined that it did not warrant a CodeRED notification. She said CodeRED is not used for non-emergency notifications.

Broomfield provided information in real-time on the oil and gas dashboard.

Adams County would not typically send out a reverse notification for something like this, according to the Fire Management Officer, who also oversees the reverse notification system. She said she would run it by the county's law and fire partners, but in Adams County, fewer than 3% of residents have signed up for the opt-in reverse notifications.

Three percent?!

Since the Marshall Fire three weeks ago, Next with Kyle Clark has encouraged residents to sign up for their county's reverse notification system. 

RELATED: How to sign up for your county's emergency alerts

On Thursday, an inspector with the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission visited the site to look into what happened.

According to an answer sheet provided by Broomfield's City and County Manager, there was no requirement to report the incident to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment's Air Pollution Control Division, but Civitas did anyway.

"We have real-time, continuous, 24/7 air monitoring around these pads," Cain said. "We checked our air monitoring immediately and saw that there were no air monitoring levels of any concern for public health."

RELATED: 'I haven't had a landline in … 17 years'; Neighbor, not emergency alert, told residents to evacuate in Marshall Fire

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