Council agrees to 22 more wells

But hours of often emotional testimony couldn’t negate one fact: this was a property rights issue, and state law prevents local governing bodies from denying mineral owners access to those rights. “I don’t happen to believe this facility is suitable for the area,” said Councilman Randy Sleight, who said he is a supporter and works in the industry. “It is too intense, too large, there’s too much going on. That’s the emotional side. “On a practical and legal side, the applicant has in fact followed everything they’ve been asked to do.” Extraction officials plan to build a 22-well facility, which will include storage tanks and associated equipment west of 71st Avenue and north of 18th Street on an empty lot surrounded on the north, east and south sides by neighborhoods. The plan is to put the facility on a 14-acre piece of a 69-acre property, which also is surrounded on all sides by about nine existing well sites. The council voted 5-2 to overturn the planning commission. Councilman John Gates stated simply, “They got this one wrong.” Added Robb Casseday: “I think we are bound to uphold the law we put into effect.” Extraction President Matt Owens said he was pleased with the vote, and promised to build a first-class facility while working to mitigate residents’ concerns. “I think it goes to show you the strides Extraction has made to make this a flagship site for Weld County,” Owens said. There are still some issue that he’ll have to deal with, however. First, the company will only be able to drill and operate at the facility seven months out of the year; the remaining five will be in the nesting season for the red-tailed hawk. Extraction officials estimated that delay could still allow them to drill their wells within two years. He also still must get the individual wells at the site permitted through the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, and it will still have to work with Greeley on dealing with planned road and bridge construction along 71st Avenue. “We can only operate seven months out of the year, so maybe in a perfect world, we could coordinate with the city,” Owens said. “In the five months that we aren’t doing anything, they could work on the roads, but we’ll have to follow their rules.” Extraction has promised to drill with electric drilling rigs and compressors, use special devices to lock in emissions during transfers of oil form tank to truck, use low-noise diesel engines, construction 12.5-foot-tall tanks instead of 20-foot tanks, store no waste on site, have frequent trips to monitor the site and have multiple legal access points to name a few. Those will be conditions they must follow per the council’s approval. While many agreed, they’d never seen a hearing with such intense interest before the council, the Triple Creek site is hardly the biggest site in urban areas in Greeley, though it is the first such site that has been denied by the Greeley Planning Commission — unanimously. The commission voted 6-0 in January to deny the company’s plans, after hours of resident testimony against it. Extraction officials said the site was their only option left to extract the minerals, owned by 1,800 mineral rights owners eager to exercise their property rights. Several sites had been considered, but none matched up to the Triple Creek site, which was suggested by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. “The COGCC, based on public feedback and comment, thought Triple Creek would be a better site and have less of an impact on the public,” said Ghislaine Torres Bruner, an attorney with Steptoe and Johnson in Denver, representing Extraction. “It allows extraction to further minimize the amount of surface land to be disturbed. Triple Creek has existing oil and gas operations and is less densely populated.” The mineral rights were a big concern for many Tuesday night, especially given a Colorado Supreme Court case the city lost in 1992, essentially prohibiting a ban of drilling, which would halt residents’ rights to their mineral rights. “You’ve set up the rules,” said Scott Renfroe, a former state Senator from Greeley. “When you look at how this project exceeds every regulation you have, and it meets every regulation the state has, how can you oppose it?” Caleb Fuchs, a Greeley resident and oil and gas landman, said he sympathized with the neighbors, but they couldn’t expect a vacant lot like this to be stay vacant. He said it would create a mushroom effect of denials based on resident complaints. “Extraction appears to have met all obligations on this, and there seems to be no reason (to be against this) other than it’s too close to my backyard. I completely understand people living there, I wouldn’t be over-excited about it myself,” Fuchs said. “We’re heading down a slippery slope if this is not approved.” Residents, all whose homes would be at least 1,000 feet away from the wells — double the state’s requirements — came out in force to oppose the project, citing concerns about health, home values and traffic issues associated with such an industrial process in this setting that could be the next backdrop of the Sheep Draw trail extension west of 71st Avenue. Some, however, pointed out that while inconvenient, actual drilling and construction of sites was temporary, followed by years of production on wells that are essentially a non-issue. Greeley is the site of more than 450 oil and gas wells, in and out of urban areas. Much of the wells at one time were rural, but housing and other developments have encroached, requiring a mix of uses. “Their right to drill should not impinge on our right to enjoy our property,” resident Margie Lewis told the council, also citing a recent study that showed that drilling operations reduced property values by 1 percent per well. A large concern was the traffic impact on the area. The city has planned to replace the Sheep Draw bridge next year, and rebuild 71st Avenue to 20th Street in 2018-19. Both councilwomen Rochelle Galindo and Sandi Elder voted against overturning the planning commission, stating that the group was there for a reason, and they did their homework. “I find it really hard to support this particular development, mostly because it does have a huge impact on traffic flow in that area.” Gallindo said. “Also the raptor breeding season will definitely prolong the project for several months.”

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