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.


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