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.

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