While 'Beauty' is on stage at this small-town playhouse, the fracking noise nearby is no beast

Cathy Proctor
Denver Business Journal
February 16, 2018


“I was hardly even aware they were there,” says the theater's owner.

Last November, one of Denver-based Liberty Oilfield Services’ “Quiet Fleets” of low-noise fracking gear set up shop about half a mile southeast of Johnson’s Corner, the norther Colorado truck stop in Johnstown along Interstate 25 that’s famous for its giant cinnamon rolls.

(I write more about the Quiet Fleet in this week’s cover story, beginning on page 4.)

Denver-based Extraction Oil & Gas Inc. had drilled 13 wells at the Johnstown site, located several hundred feet down the road from the Candlelight Dinner Playhouse, which wrapped performances of “The Music Man” in early November and launched Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” on Nov. 16.

As the Denver Business Journal’s energy reporter, I’ve walked around active hydraulic fracturing operations in the past. I remember asking questions by screaming into the ear of my tour guide — who took ear plugs out of his ears to listen to my question, and yelled answers into my ear in response.

But at the Johnstown site on a late November day, most of the noise flowed from the motors of the giant semis carrying sand onto the location. Conversations within the soundwalls took place in normal tones — and my standard iPad microphone was sufficient to capture and record an interview about 25 feet outside the soundwall — just 75 feet from the fracking operation underway on the other side.

When Josh Carlisle, Extraction’s environment, health and safety manager, opened the foam-layered compartment surrounding the engines driving the fracking operation, the jump in the noise levels was significant, as was the relative quiet that followed when the panel closed.

“I was hardly even aware they were there,” said Dave Clark, the executive director and owner of the Candlelight Dinner Playhouse, of the work that occurred down the street from his business.

Clark said he’d known for months the drilling and fracking operations were coming.

“I was concerned about the noise. I do have a theater and we have shows and we need quiet so people can hear .. but we hardly knew they were there during the whole process,” Clark said.

Bill Drinkwine manages the RV Boatel storage yard across the street from the dinner theater. He also said noise wasn’t an issue for the business.

“I didn’t think they were very loud, there was traffic, but all their trucks came in at the proper speed,” Drinkwine said.

When he was invited inside the soundwalls for a tour, Drinkwine said a relative with ties to the industry warned him to take ear mufflers and ear plugs to protect his hearing.

“But I didn’t need them. I was never uncomfortable when I was on site — they were really good around here,” he said.

Liberty’s crews wrapped up work at the Johnstown site just after Christmas, according to Extraction officials, and the company didn’t receive any complaints about the site from state officials.

For Extraction, the impact of Liberty’s Quiet Fleet are “huge,” said Matt Owens, the president and co-founder of Extraction.

“Noise has traditionally been the hardest thing for us to deal with. It’s a game-changer for us because it gets rid of a lot of the complaints that people had. It’s opened up areas that we can drill, knowing that we can address the concerns that people have up front,” he said.

For Chris Wright, the CEO of Liberty Oilfield Services, the Quiet Fleet is a demonstration of the innovation that’s taking place in the industry across Colorado and the nation.

“Are we perfect? No. But is anything in life that involves humans perfect? No,” Wright said, answering his own questions.

“But is the industry working hard to get better every year and move the ball forward? Absolutely.

“And the fastest progress in shrinking our impact as an industry is happening here, in Colorado.”