Brighton Hires Activist to Draft Energy Regulations

March 21, 2014
By
Matt Sura

Matt Sura

This story is updated with a response from Matt Sura.

An environmental activist and fracking opponent was hired by the City of Brighton to help draft new regulations for local oil and gas development, prompting concerns from a key lawmaker that the input would taint the process or lead to a permanent ban.

Matt Sura, an environmental lawyer and former director of the Western Colorado Congress, has spoken at anti-fracking events and was reportedly involved in efforts opposing hydraulic fracturing operations in Weld County, the largest producer of oil and gas in the state with 15,000 wells.

Minority Whip and state Rep. Kevin Priola (R-Henderson) said he is concerned about the economic effects in Brighton if the final recommendation is a long-term moratorium on energy development, and expressed particular unease “the city has retained Sura, who has a track record of doing this.”

Sura disputes Priola’s characterization of his work and association with environmental groups, and says he is an oil and gas attorney who helps landowners and mineral owners negotiate lease agreements with the industry.

“So far from being a fracktivist, I actually work on oil and gas development,” Sura said.

In an interview with The Colorado Observer, Priola said his concern is that Brighton will follow a pattern similar to what occurred in Boulder, where the city council approved a one-year moratorium in June to block oil and gas drilling permits there, while Boulder voters approved a ballot measure in November to institute a five-year ban.

“There are three to four thousand employees that live and work in Brighton — Halliburton made a large commitment and has an operation there — and it’s just really concerning to me as a native of Brighton, that the Brighton City Council appears to be mirroring what the City of Boulder has done,” Priola said.

“I’m concerned that in a sense, they’ve already decided which way they’re going to go by the way they’ve already handled the first portion, of creating a moratorium when no moratorium needed to be implemented at all,” Priola said.

In a March 14 letter to Brighton Mayor Richard McLean and the city council, Priola expressed his “sheer disappointment” with their decision to hire Sura citing the “credibility of counsel,” as well as the economic impact that a ban on energy development would have on the community.

“This is concerning as Mr. Sura has either worked with, or been closely associated publicly with extreme environmental groups such as Frack Free Colorado, Frack Free Boulder, Protect our Loveland and Citizens for Clean Air,” Priola said in the letter.

“The credibility of his involvement as representation for Brighton is questioned. This does not seem to coincide with Brighton City Council’s historic stances of being a business friendly community and making rational collaborative, effective decisions. Not only does this present a tremendous conflict of interest, but also it absolutely hinders a fair due process to our people,” Priola said.

Sura challenged Priola’s description of his involvement with those anti-fracking organizations as “completely inaccurate.”

“I have represented Citizens for Clean Air at the recent rule-making at the Air Quality Control Commission, but the other organizations I’ve never represented and don’t belong to and haven’t worked with,” Sura said.

“His views, he’s welcome to them, but they’re not very informed views because I’ve never talked to the man and he doesn’t know me and clearly doesn’t know the kind of work I do,” Sura said.

Sura’s name appeared on a Sierra Club poster for an event billed as “What the Frack?” with fracktivist Shane Davis at the Odell Brewing Company in Fort Collins in September 2012.

Asked about his participation in that event, Sura said, “I will talk to anybody that invites me. I’ve also showed up to events on behalf of the oil and gas industry.”

“Promoting the truth about oil and gas development is part of what I think a responsible oil and gas attorney would want to do, and so I do respond to a lot of different engagements and I think that’s only fair,” Sura said.

Sura is also named as a participant in another Sierra Club event with Davis held November 2012 at the New Belgium Brewery in Fort Collins titled “Colorado oil and gas industry failures and how the state has failed its citizens.”

Asked to describe his comments at Sierra Club events, Sura said, “I’m answering questions about how oil and gas development is regulated in the State of Colorado.”

Asked about his work with the City of Brighton, how he became involved in the regulation process or how much he is being paid, Sura said he was not at liberty to talk about his work and referred those questions back to the city.

A National Journal article published in November noted the presence and participation of Sura at a Weld County anti-fracking meeting, where a strategy discussed was to avoid a ballot initiative and to instead urge the Greeley City Council “to place a moratorium on new drilling projects within city limits until tougher regulations were in place.”

The article said that Sura represented the anti-fracking group for free.

The Brighton City Council approved a suspension on oil and gas development during a March 4 meeting saying the “emergency” ordinance was needed for four months to revise its regulations.

The suspension would also allow time for the “educating of (the) new planning commission and city council members regarding oil and gas development,” the council said in the announcement.

Kristen Chernosky, public information director for Brighton, confirmed that Sura would be paid by the city to help draft the new rules.

“He is an attorney that’s been hired by the city to assist with the process of the regulations,” Chernosky said. “He’s assisting our city attorney in putting together the regulations with our staff.”

The team drafting the new regulations includes Sura, City Attorney Margaret Brubaker, and the city’s community development department, Chernosky said.

Chernosky, who was returning a phone call request Thursday morning to interview McLean, was also asked how Sura was selected to help write the rules and how much he would be paid. She said she would find out those details and provide the information to the Observer, but later sent an email saying another open records request should be submitted to obtain that information.

The Colorado Observer has submitted two requests under the Colorado Open Records Act to the City of Brighton, the first on March 6, asking for all email correspondence between the city council and Sura. The city responded less than a week later and said, “There has not been any email correspondence between Matt Sura and members of the Brighton City Council.”

A second open records request from the Observer sent March 18 asked for a copy of the contract and all contract negotiations between Sura and council members or the city attorney. Additionally, the second request asked for all emails, phone records and meeting records of any advice Sura has given council or city attorney. That request is still pending.

The oil and energy boom in Colorado has produced thousands of jobs as well as millions of dollars in new revenue for the state.

Severance tax revenues have surged because of advances in hydraulic fracturing. The state collected $138 million in taxes from 2012 through 2013, and are projected to collect $275 million in 2016.

“The council’s decision to enact a moratorium will do nothing but hurt and divide our strong community,” Priola said in his letter.

“I urge you to reconsider this ban. I also strongly urge you to sever ties with Mr. Sura given his stark conflict of interest.  There are other avenues in which we can work together to review and revise regulations,” Priola said.

Sura and the team were scheduled to deliver the first ordinance draft on March 17 for Brighton city staff to review.

According to a review of the city’s four-month schedule, nearly a dozen reviews, revisions, and presentations will be held before the regulations are considered by the city council at a public hearing July 1, and the final ordinance is adopted on July 15.

Comments made by visitors are not representative of The Colorado Observer staff.

9 Responses to Brighton Hires Activist to Draft Energy Regulations

  1. Jackson
    March 21, 2014 at 11:57 am

    Thank you, comrades of the Brighton politburo.

    • Sue
      March 22, 2014 at 12:59 pm

      Hi, I want to correct the view that Matt Sura is anti- fracking , I personally know him. A group of us from Douglas County several years ago grouped together to learn ore about Oil Leases as we had been approached by Landmen to lease our mineral rights. Our group was not anti Fracking but rather wanted to know more before entering into leases.What we discovered was an individual landowner especially of smaller lots like 5 acres are at the mercy of the Oil Companies and that mineral rights trumped surface rights. We looked for a lawyer to help us and contacted Matt. Thankfully the oil companies were disappointed in the first test well. Matt does represent citizens and not Oil Companies but he is not the person that was described in the article. He will be fair to all.

    • Allen
      June 4, 2014 at 9:00 pm

      Having seen Mr. Sura in action, I can tell you with certainty he doesn’t have the credibility or experience he purports to have. His understanding of oil and gas matters is limited. To anyone with a legitimate depth of industry experience, Sura is obviously in over his head. He is best left to handle mom and pop leases and surface use agreements (and hopefully at rates lower than the industry average). Its very concerning that a public body such as Brighton would engage Sura in public matters such as this. The more prudent and wise choice would be to select a Denver oil and gas attorney with more significant experience than someone like Sura, who’s resume seems cloudy and deficient at best. Whomever made this decision on behalf of Brighton displayed a noticeable judgement slip.

  2. occupy everywhere
    March 21, 2014 at 3:18 pm

    Brighton
    Boulder mentality in trailer parks

    • VET
      May 1, 2014 at 9:56 pm

      “takes one to know one” period.

  3. Brian McFarlane
    March 22, 2014 at 7:52 pm

    “The problem with us going to the ballot is the oil and gas industry has put $300,000 into the ballot initiative in Fort Collins. They’ve got maybe two wells,” said Matt Sura, an environmental lawyer who represents the group for free. “We’re talking 200 wells that would be potentially affected. More than 1,000 wells they’re going to squeeze into the city of Greeley. Any one of those wells cost $5 million to drill.”

    Sura paused, and for once no one said anything during a meeting that stretched more than two hours. “How much do you think they might try to spend to DEFEAT US? Take a guess,” Sura coaxed his colleagues. “It’s got to be over a million.”

    Yeah, that sounds like he is … “fair”? I doubt that New Belgium and the Sierra Club are interested in a pro “oil and gas industry” attorney participating in their event titled “Colorado oil and gas industry failures and how the state has failed its citizens.”

    Commenter “SUE” wrote … “Thankfully the oil companies were disappointed in the first test well.” Yep, that sounds like somebody that was just wanting to learn more about leases. I will look forward to reading more comments from “Sue” on other subjects.

  4. March 23, 2014 at 11:31 pm

    Why do Matt Sura’s answers to these questions remind me of Michael Corleone’s answer to the Senate committee in Godfather II? To wit:

    “Is it true that you own controlling interests in three of the major hotels in Las Vegas?”

    “No, it’s not true. I own some stock in some hotels but very little. [pause] I also own stock in IBM and ITT.”

    Uh huh. R-i-i-i-i-i-g-h-t.

  5. VET
    May 1, 2014 at 10:00 pm

    Leases in WELD county range in the 5.5k range,(since Aug 2013) while nearby counties do not exceed 2k total….Brighton has to be a starting point, something needs to be seen AND heard.

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