Sunday, July 3, 2016
24 Gas Wells Unanimously Approved Near Bella Elementary
Below is the full text of the Greeley Tribune article, with interesting parts emphasized in red and my comments added in orange.
County commissioners approve Extraction Oil and Gas project near Bella Romero Academy
Sidewalk or no sidewalk? Bella Romero Academy’s lack of sidewalks have been a hot-button issue for years. When the school went up in 2003, the city of Greeley, Greeley-Evans School District 6 and Weld County officials all took notice. Each agency believed another one was responsible for building a sidewalk. The school is just outside Greeley city limits. During a meeting last week, school board officials decided to ask the commissioners to require Extraction Oil and Gas to build a sidewalk while building a nearby oil and gas project. That didn’t go through. One county commissioner said she wouldn’t consider it. Commissioner Barbara Kirkmeyer reminded residents that Weld County attempted to seek a federal grant to build the sidewalk, but no one would pitch in for the funding match. “We were told ‘no’ by the city of Greeley and ‘no’ by the school district,” she sad. “I think they chose to neglect and do nothing for their students.” [What about all that oil revenue for the county and the city? Can some of that not be used to make a sidewalk? What about the oil companies' PR slogan that they want to be a good neighbor? Why would they not volunteer paying for the sidewalk?]
Residents trickled out of the hearing room rolling their eyes and shaking their heads in disappointment as Weld County leaders loudly lauded the oil and gas industry Wednesday. “We don’t have a democracy,” Greeley resident Maydean Worley told the board before she walked out of the ongoing meeting that drew about 100 residents to discuss a planned 24-well oil and gas structure that Extraction Oil and Gas had proposed in east Greeley. Commissioners thanked the industry for lifting its residents out of poverty and providing a brighter economic future for its workers.
Everyone was gathered at the Weld County administration building, 1150 O St., for a hearing on another contested urban oil and gas project. Extraction officials sought a special use permit that would allow the company to build a 24-well pad east of Greeley, near Bella Romero Academy 4-8 Campus, 1400 E. 20th St. The commissioners unanimously approved it. Extraction will build up to 24 wells on the northeast corner of Cherry Avenue and 24th Street. Because of its access to both oil and natural gas pipeline, electricity and air quality technology, it will be one of the safest sites in the country, said Blane Thingelstad, a petroleum engineer for the company.
Before the public comment session began, Chairman Mike Freeman urged speakers to stay on task, focusing on this specific project. Often, even during this meeting, speakers on both sides got caught up in general energy policy arguments. This is a land use hearing, so instead of enacting new laws, all commissioners do is decide whether the project is appropriate for the area. Nearby resident Barbara Flores pointed to her house on a projected map, showing how close it is to the project site. “I am definitely affected by this monstrosity,” she said.
Residents lamented the project for a multitude of reasons: health risks, especially for nearby school children, pollution and truck traffic. “As a teacher, this bothers me,” said Therese Gilbert, who teaches at Heath Middle School, 2223 16th St. in Greeley. Children’s bodies are still developing, and that makes their lungs and other organs more sensitive to pollution, she said. There are already eight wells in the area, and the project would only bring more. “This would make it 32 within 1,500 feet,” she said. “That is not OK to have that close to kids.”
Anne Curry-Sanchez, another Greeley resident, pointed out that although the school building is 1,300 feet from the well site, a playground is only about 500 feet away. The state in recent years bolstered its setback requirements, requiring oil and gas activity to be no closer to high-occupancy structures than 1,000 feet; oil and gas structures must be 500 feet away from low-occupancy structures, such as homes.
Wendy Highby is a co-founder of Weld Air and Water, an anti-oil and gas advocacy group for the county. She said weather will affect the levels of pollution near the school, and some days will be worse than others. “Like we have snow days, we would (need to) have high pollution days,” she said. “We are ignoring the public health risks.” It’s tough to pollute areas around here because of the state’s strict environmental regulations, Thingelstad said. “Colorado has some of the best air quality standards in the nation,” he said.
[I guess Thinglestad is not aware that elevated ozone levels are now the norm here? Access the information at the website of the Colorado Department for Public Health & Environment.It even has this real-time ozone monitoring map
Most residents raised another concern about the location: the streets. They’re worried about having heavy-duty trucks on the roads in the area during constructions and drilling. Not only do they lack sidewalks for Bella Romero students, they’re in bad shape. Alan Herman, who said he worked for the city of Evans in the streets department, lives in the neighborhood. “That road’s not anywhere close to any road standards,” he said. Cars almost have to drive off the pavement to make way for oncoming traffic in some areas.
Thinglestad touted many of the site’s features he said go above and beyond those regulations: advanced technology that catches any escaping vapors, cell phone apps that let rig operators know in real time if there’s a problem, thicker sound walls and electric access, which cuts the need for loud, diesel-running drilling rigs. “Noise, emissions, diesel traffic … has been mitigated here,” he said.
Worley was one of the residents who veered into overarching energy policy. “Everyone in Weld County has these chemicals in their body,” she told the board. She called it a case of social and environmental injustice. After many residents showed their anger and disappointment with the board — some with facial expressions, some with snarky remarks — after the public hearing session, the commissioners went off task, as well.
Commissioner Julie Cozad talked about the perceived battle between protection of nature and oil and gas projects. “My degree is in biology and chemistry,” she said. “I study these issues. I think there is a way for industry to coexist.” Many commissioners responded to accusations such as, “You wouldn’t want this in your community.” Three of the five commissioners said they do have oil and gas in their communities. “There’s been no less than 10 rigs in my area,” Commissioner Barbara Kirkmeyer said.
You can contact the commissioners here: Meet the Commissioners