Friday, August 30, 2013

Greeley must protect quality of life for residents

By Therese Gilbert

I seldom see the Rockies clearly from Greeley anymore. My sisters, during their visit two weeks ago, noticed this as well. Having grown up in Colorado and now living out of state, they look forward to seeing that beautiful and familiar vista to the west. What accounts for this gray-brown haze on blue-sky days? We can’t possibly match the traffic level of metro Denver, so what could be contributing to this poor air quality?

Within the last 10 years, there has been an accelerated rate of oil and gas development in Weld County. While the industry has brought in some revenue and created jobs, the cumulative effect of this drilling on our air quality is now becoming apparent. We currently have over 20,000 active wells in Weld County, and new additional drilling projects, already permitted by the state, will soon close the “donut hole” within city limits.

Drilling within the center of Greeley has been last for obvious reasons; the risks of such development are simply not compatible with the quality of life that most residents consider acceptable. Since March of this year, over 181 wells were permitted to drill, many within 500 feet of schools.

Behind Frontier Academy and Walmart 67 wells are planned.
The red dot is where the drill rig will be placed; the dots and
yellow stripes at the bottom are storage tanks and separators.

 The process of hydraulic fracturing involves adding over 600 chemicals to 2-10 million gallons of clean water and sand per well, and the mixture is injected with great force to open up rock fissures underground that allow natural gas to escape and be captured on the surface. The gas is collected in the large, cylindrical, beige colored tanks that blotch our landscape.

If unsightliness were the worst feature of these tanks, we might have reason to complain, but little to worry us. However, what we don’t see is the problem. Toxic gases such as benzene, ethylbenzene, xylene, ethane, toluene, and others leak from these condensate tanks, some of which cause cancer and respiratory illnesses. The highest industry standard allows for 2% of the gases to escape, but it is estimated that many leak more than 5%.

Now, imagine the cumulative effect of over 20,000 wells leaking 5% of their toxic gases! Most emissions escape during the initial drilling process, and according to one study, those living within half a mile of natural gas wells are at the highest risk for exposure. (2012 Colorado School of Public Health, University of Colorado – McKenzie, Witter, Newman, Adgate)

 A recent study has found that oil & gas production in Weld County contributes 55% of the VOC’s (volatile organic compounds) that cause ozone pollution in the northern Colorado region, and for the past 2 years the air in Weld County has been out of compliance with federal standards for ground level ozone. (2013 Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences – Gilman, et al)

As residents of Weld County and Greeley, we are surrounded with the consequences of this heavy industrialization every day. The latest project by Synergy Corporation proposes to add 12 horizontal wells and 25 condensate tanks to a site within 450 feet of the track at Northridge High School where students exercise. Is this responsible development?

Should we be risking the health of those who must live so close to this drilling? We were given this beautiful planet to call our home, and we must be responsible stewards of this gift. A healthy environment is a safe home; let us be careful in making choices that might forever damage the precious air we breathe. I urge our city council to make decisions that not only protect the rights of mineral owners, but protect the quality of life for those of us living and breathing on the surface.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Greeley Ignores Criteria For Proper Planning

In the past seven months the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) issued permits for 181 oil and gas wells to be drilled and fracked in Greeley, but according to criteria in the city's 2020 Comprehensive Plan  the city council should deny them!

Take a look!

Land Use (LU4.3) Disallow high impact agricultural and heavy industrial land uses that generate obnoxious influences, such as noise, fumes, or hazards. ~ Page 197
From Source Watch Colorado and Fracking: A study conducted over three years by the Colorado School of Public Health concluded that fracking can contribute to “acute and chronic health problems for those living near natural gas drilling sites”... "The study found those living within a half-mile of a natural gas drilling site faced greater health risks than those who live farther away." Researchers located “potentially toxic petroleum hydrocarbons in the air near the wells including benzene, ethylbenzene, toluene and xylene.” See: Health Effects
Environment (EN3.B) Disallow the establishment of any new businesses or industry which will create offensive outdoor odors. ~ Page 114

EN5.10 C) Carefully balance economic benefits from mining activities with the social cost related to the altered environment.~ Page 120

EN3 Air Quality - In order to protect and promote a healthy, pleasant, and economically viable community, the quality of the air must be improved to minimize offensive odors and have a minimum of pollutants. ~ Page 113

 EN3.2 Maintain full compliance with federal air quality standards and reduce stationary and mobile source emissions of pollutants with special emphasis placed upon efforts to reduce pollutants which cause adverse health effects and impair visibility.
From and article in the Denver PostOil and gas emissions now are the main source of volatile organic compounds in Colorado and the third-largest source of nitrogen oxides, at a time when a nine-county area around metro Denver is already failing to meet federal clean-air standards, state data show...State air monitoring has found that oil and gas sources currently emit at least 463 tons a day of smog-forming VOCs and 149 tons a day of nitrogen oxides — much of it in the ozone-prone Front Range corridor. Read more: Oil and gas air pollution
 EN3.5 Incorporate air quality objectives into the land use planning and development process by encouraging land use patterns which reduce travel and air emissions.

A) Evaluate all zoning and land use development requests for their impact on air quality. ~ Page 115

EN5.11 Maintain minimum setback and site design standards from oil and gas wells and tank batteries which protect the public’s interest through attention to safety and compatibility issues relative to adjacent properties.

EN6.7 Work with the Division of Wildlife on development in proximity to natural areas to assure sensitivity in the siting and design of urban features in key wildlife and related habitat areas. ~ Page 121

EN1.4 Consider wildlife movement corridors in the siting and development of urban uses to assure that native species are able to access habitats without human interference. ~ Page 111

EN8 View Shed and Important Corridors - In order to improve the area quality of life, enjoyment of community, and appreciation of natural resources, the City should promote the development of the community in such a way as to protect key view sheds and travel corridors and reflect in the built environment a sensitivity to the areas of environmental significance. ~ Page 123

EN8.1 Develop a list of important corridors and areas which carry environmental significance and/or visual appeal related to its natural features and establish special design treatments along such areas. Evaluate the following areas for inclusion on such a list:

A) Bluff area along northern edge of community;
B) Sheep Draw;
C) Ashcroft Draw;
D) Confluence of the Cache la Poudre & South Platte rivers;
E) “O” Street corridor;
F) Cache la Poudre River corridor; and,
G) U.S. Highway 34 corridor

EN8.3 Protect open lands in strategic areas within and around the community in order to provide visual relief from the urban landscape, preserve important vistas, and/or retain separation from other communities. ~Page 124

A) recognize the value in retaining agricultural crop land in acknowledgment of the community’s heritage and the opportunity for this land use to meet this strategy as long as Right-to-Farm protections are provided.

LU2.19 Residential development should be the primary land use adjacent to elementary, middle and high schools. Discourage zoning or development of property which diminishes residential population in an area which is supported by a neighborhood school, or which poses safety impacts to children.

LU4.2 In new site development residential uses should not be allowed adjacent to medium or high intensity industrial uses and zones to prevent unnecessary conflicts between such uses and to promote the expansion of industrial sites without undue hardship of needing to address mitigation or buffering treatments and impacts to residential and other low-impact uses. ~ Page 197

Thursday, August 15, 2013

French Film Crew in Greeley in Search of Fracking

"Would you want to meet with a french film crew, and help show them around? They want to do a film on fracking in Weld." 

That was the message I found in my inbox yesterday. "Heck, yes! Of course I wanted to show them around! Let's get word and video out to the world beyond our city limits, and borders, of how dreadful the oil & gas installation infestation has become here! When was the last time we had a clear view of the mountains?

Unfortunately I forgot to take along my photo camera, and cannot show that I and two others actually did meet the crew. It was six o'clock when they finally arrived at the Kress theater where we'd been waiting for almost an hour. It turns out they'd been wandering around up north, near Grover!

After introductions I asked Herve and Pierre, "Did you see a lot of gas wells and oil tanks on the way here?" "Yes", Herve said, "but we want to see fracking" . "But that all is fracking!" I told them, but it turns out they wanted to see the actual process where the water goes in or comes back out. They were looking for a site with lots of trucks and compressors.

"No such thing going on around here for the moment," I told them. "Your best bet is to find active sites along U.S. 85". And so, after having spent just 10 minutes in our well infested city, they left again.

We thought they had wanted to see the various gas well sites near houses and water, but they were not interested in the effects after drilling and fracking is completed, and that it is the emissions from the installations that pose the largest and most immediate danger to people's health.

Near Riverside Park, Evans

Granted, a field filled with trucks and compressors looks more impressive and obnoxious than the tanks and separators neatly painted in sand color to blend into the surroundings, but it is precisely these that are dangerous and noxious, and remain so! The fracking process is bad and poses real hazards, but let's not forget that after fracking, residents will still be inhaling noxious fumes!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Residents Against More Wells Near School And Houses

Weld Air and Water joined 15 Greeley residents in filing an appeal this week to stop increased drilling within a high residential neighborhood, adjacent to Northridge High school, and on a ridge that slopes into the Sheep Draw waterway and wetlands. The proposal would add a twelve-well horizontal “fracking” operation on a site which already has six vertical wells.

The application by Synergy Resources Corporation was approved by the Planning Commission on July 23rd and has been scheduled for a public hearing before Greeley City Council on September 3rd. If approved, the application would allow for 25 condensate oil and gas tanks, 7 water tanks for flow-back water, and 17 separators; in addition to equipment (flares) to reduce the volatile organic compounds emitted.

What the site may look like during the drilling and fracking process.

Neighborhood resident, Sara Barwinski explains,
 “What really concerns us is the massive increase of heavy industrialization on the site. This size of industrial complex is simply not appropriate next to a school and near homes. We are not calling for a ban on existing operations—we are just asking for balance, and for the city to apply their own criteria that requires new applications to be compatible with surrounding land uses.” 
Therese Gilbert with Weld Air and Water (WAW) agrees.
“Weld Air and Water became involved because we want to help Greeley understand the options they have to restore sanity in planning around oil and gas decisions. City Council members and City Staff have stated that because Greeley lost the effort to ban oil and gas drilling back in 1992 that they have “no choice” but to approve any and all requests to drill. This simply is not true.” 
 The appeal by neighbors and Weld Air and Water outlines legal arguments and suggests that Greeley adopt regulatory approaches that are commonly used by other local governments throughout Colorado. According to Gilbert,
  “Greeley needs to strike a better balance between the goals of the oil and gas industry and the health, safety and welfare of Greeley residents.” 
 The group believes there are hopeful signs that Greeley residents and leaders are seeing a need for more balanced decision-making.

Weld Air and Water is encouraged that the City Council passed a petition on July 16 to take a closer look at the impacts of these fuel storage tanks in neighborhoods and whether there should be restrictions in the number allowed.
“We don’t think the City should move forward with this application until that analysis has occurred,” Barwinski stated.
Susan Rutherford is one of the nearest neighbors to the site. Last spring her entire neighborhood woke to a loud, shrill noise at 3:00 in the morning.
“I finally was able to figure out that it was coming from the oil and gas site because I could see a smoky cloud and the air smelled like a hot furnace,” Rutherford stated.
She called 911 and the whole operation was soon shut down. She was informed by the operator that the problem was a faulty gas pressure release valve. Rutherford believed the problem should have been caught by more frequent inspections.
“There had been periodic unexplained noises going on all day long before it finally reached that critical point. ..How can anyone believe that approving that kind of danger is protecting our health and safety?” 
Residents are also upset that the city has ignored the impacts that enlarging this industrial complex would have on the Sheep Draw trail and wetlands, which has been home to bald eagles, horned owls, hawks and other wildlife.

Patricia Gonzalez, a neighbor in the immediate vicinity explains,
“We have already seen great impacts on wildlife caused from the existing wells. The day after the 3:00 am “wake-up call” incident, a pair of hawks abandoned their nest. I am also very concerned about the odors that have increased and the fact that I see less and less wildlife when I walk the trail.. 
This is an area that is considered of “high” ecological significance. It is zoned as a conservation district and is considered part of the Cache la Poudre River corridor. City code states: development should be rejected unless it would have ‘little or no impact’ on this area. An accidental spill will flow down-hill into this vulnerable watershed contaminating it.”  
Rutherford adds,
 “Greeley and our concerned citizens are spending dollars and manpower to connect this beautiful part of the Sheep Draw to the Poudre River Trail in 2014—why wouldn’t we want to protect this investment?” 
WAW’s Gilbert is a teacher and shares a further concern,
“The track and field of Northridge High School is just over 400 feet from the well-heads, so our kids will be deeply inhaling the fumes when they exercise. I am also worried about the lack of security at this unmanned facility.” 
Synergy had an uncontrolled release in Mead last month that required an emergency response at 2:00 a.m. Synergy stated that it suspects that it was caused by teens tampering with equipment. This and other similar incidents around the country have persuaded Weld Air and Water to put forward a number of recommendations for conditions that should be attached to the permit, should the City Council decide to approve it

Gilbert continued,
  “The 24/7 drilling, increased truck traffic, odors, dust and toxic emissions are clearly not ‘compatible’ with a neighborhood.” 
She pointed to the fact the City Council rejected a coffee-shop in a neighborhood last month because citizens’ voiced concerns about possible increased traffic and noise from the commercial facility.
 “Our city government needs to understand that they have both the authority and the obligation to regulate the impacts of this heavy industry whose impacts are far worse than the impacts of a coffee shop.” 
The appeal argues that the site fails all of the City’s criteria for appropriate development and is not consistent with Greeley’s Comprehensive Plan for the future. Barwinski stated,
“If it was any other industry besides oil and gas they wouldn’t think twice about rejecting it. We want them to take the time to think through their legal options and their responsibility to Greeley citizens before making a decision that will impact us for decades to come.” 

Large tank batteries have come under greater scrutiny because of a serious explosion at a natural gas drill site on July 7 in West Virginia—two people died and five others were injured. The accident is under federal and state investigation. The company that operates the drill site, Antero Resources, claims in its report issued by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, that the cause of the blast was a buildup of gas in tanks used to store flow back water from the process of preparing the well for natural gas production.

The flow back process occurs during high-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing—in which millions of gallons of water and chemicals are pumped deep underground to release natural gas from shale rock. According to the West Virginia Gazette, Antero said the accident was due to “the presence of an accumulation of gas from storage tanks on location.” The company also blamed “a concentration of heavier than methane hydrocarbons in the gas mixture” and “an apparent ignition source near” near the operation. 

The Chemical Safety Board (CSB), a federal agency, is encouraging local and state governments to take steps to protect young people from dangerous tank batteries related with oil and gas development. On October 31, 2009, two teenagers, aged 16 and 18, were killed when a storage tank containing natural gas condensate exploded at gas production site in Carnes, Mississippi. Six months later a group of youths were exploring a similar tank site in Weleetka, Oklahoma, when an explosion and fire fatally injured one individual. Two weeks later, a 25-year-old man and a 24-year-old woman were on top of an oil tank in New London, Texas, when the tank exploded, killing the woman and seriously injuring the man.

 The CSB deployed investigators to all three sites to collect information on the incidents. They concluded: “The introduction of an ignition source (such as a match, lighter, cigarette, or static electricity) near tank hatches or vents can trigger an internal tank explosion, often launching the tank into the air and killing or injuring people nearby, the CSB found in its October 2011 study of the problem. The study identified a total of 26 incidents since 1983 that killed 44 members of the public and injured 25 others all under the age of 25.

The CSB’s safety recommendations urged states, standards organizations, and trade associations, to take action to protect members of the public – particularly children and young adults – from these hazards.” For more information and a video on the risks to teens see Oil Site Safety. Synergy has stated that it believes that teen vandalism may have caused one of its gas wells near Mead to vent natural gas at 2:00am at a rate that sounded like “a giant over-sized air compressor” according to a neighbor. Source: Greeley Tribune in Brief, SHERIFF’S OFFICE INVESTIGATES POSSIBLE TAMPERING AT MEAD-AREA GAS WELL, Greeley Tribune July 27, 2013.