By Analisa Romero
The Greeley City Council approved the expansion of a Synergy Resources Inc. well site near Northridge High School late Tuesday, but opponents of the expansion say the fight isn’t over. In some respects, they may have made headway. Two Greeley City Council members voted against the expansion of the drill site on Tuesday, signaling a slight shift from the council’s historically unified stance that the city can’t interfere with an oil and gas company’s access to its mineral rights.
The city council upheld the Greeley Planning Commission’s decision to allow Synergy to add three wells and several dozen more water and oil tanks on the 12.5-acre site near 4th Street and 66th Avenue. Because the council was hearing an appeal of the planning commission’s decision, the council upheld that decision based on whether the planning commission followed proper procedures in its own approval process.
Council members, including Mike Finn, said they would like to continue the dialogue brought up during the appeal regarding the city’s development codes related to oil and gas. In the meantime, the Sierra Club, a national environmental group with an office in Boulder, is urging Gov. John Hickenlooper to halt the Synergy expansion permit at the state level.
In coordination with Weld Air and Water, a group with members who appealed the Synergy expansion at the city council hearing on Tuesday, the Sierra Club sent a letter to Hickenlooper in the hopes that the state will stop “rubber stamping” permits for large oil and gas operations. Lauren Swain, chairwoman of the newly created Beyond Oil & Gas Team for the Sierra Club Rocky Mountain Chapter, said the Sierra Club would like the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to reassess its setback rules, which she said are still inadequate.
“I think there’s a bigger principle at play here,” she said of the fight to stop the Synergy expansion. Craig Rasmuson, vice president of operations and production at Synergy, said his company has worked closely with the COGCC on some recommended conditions of approval to be good neighbors and to ensure public health while the company is drilling.
Synergy will monitor air quality every month, conduct baseline water samples near Sheep Draw before and after drilling, put up a 30-foot sound barrier, reduce dust with a hi-tech vacuum, and ensure all new equipment on site is automated, which helps to reduce human error. Rasmuson said he is finalizing the wording of that agreement now, and that Synergy expects a permit from the COGCC within the week.
He said Synergy didn’t have to agree to any of those conditions but went above and beyond what was required. “I truly feel like we have done our part, and I feel like (COGCC) Director (Matt) Lepore would communicate that to the governor’s office,” Rasmuson said.
Sara Barwinski, a member of Weld Air and Water who spearheaded the appeal of the Synergy drill site expansion, said she, too, hopes to change how oil and gas permits are handled even if the Synergy site expansion goes through. She said she wants to see the city include conditions of approval for well sites that don’t interfere with state regulations, a concern that city council members cite as a reason not to regulate oil and gas beyond what the state has in place. In 1992, Greeley lost a Colorado Supreme Court case when the city tried to ban drilling.
Barwinski said she was encouraged by the two dissenting voices on the city council — members Donna Sapienza and Sandi Elder — who voted against the expansion. Elder said she was not bothered by similar drilling activities that went on at the Aims Community College campus and near her home, and trusts that Synergy will go above and beyond state regulations to ensure public health and safety, but she said she wasn’t comfortable with the amount of equipment permitted for the site. Sapienza said the proximity of a high school, the Sheep Draw Trail and a subdivision to the drill site concerned her.