Drilling is about to begin on the Triple Creek oil and gas well site in west Greeley, and neighbors still are unhappy.

At this point, however, there is little they can do but watch — and they will.

Residents have been concerned about the site, which has been permitted for 22 oil and gas wells, plus associated storage equipment, on a 14-acre portion of a 69-acre property their homes surround. The site is just off 71st Avenue north of 18th Street. Dirt work and grading began on the site Friday.

Officials from Extraction Oil and Gas, operators of the site, promise a world-class facility.

“We’ve thrown every best management practice that we can at it,” said Blane Thingelstad, the project manager for the Triple Creek site. “This is one of the best-engineered sites in the nation from a drilling and completion production standpoint.”

Triple Creek was the first large-scale project approved under new state rules that were supposed to find more protections against encroaching oil and gas development in neighborhoods. Neighbors have been upset about the process, saying the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission didn’t follow its own rules by allowing the facility near residences.

The facility is a good 1,000 feet away from homes — per the new state rules — but because it is a large facility, it crosses a threshold under which operators must seek alternative locations and use what is called “best practices.” Triple Creek was proposed as a result of two poor sites in areas closer to residences in two portions of the city, turned into one, Thingelstad said. The residents said officials from Extraction had told them about plans to pipe out the product — a best practice — instead of storing it on site and trucking it out.

But the site was approved without a requirement for pipelines, and officials began rethinking the pipeline issue when considering the many easements it would have to get to pipe the oil 30 miles to a commercial pipeline to take it to market.

Neighbors say that is evidence of deception and the company has lost their trust.

Thingelstad said piping the product out has never been off the table. But like their promised electric drilling rigs — which reduce noise while drilling — they need to make sure they can deliver on their commitments.

“On the electric drilling, we told the city we were working on it, we’re going to try, which is the same thing we said on the pipeline, but we couldn’t commit until we heard from Xcel being able to provide that electricity at Triple Creek,” Thingelstad said. “Once we got that, we committed. Until we have that level of commitment on the pipeline, I can’t commit.

“It’s going to happen. It’s just a matter of when. We’re working with several midstream providers right now.”

Lowell Lewis, whose back deck overlooks the site, said he would like to believe they’re genuine in that claim, but he said he feels he’s in a rock and a hard place.

“We all have good vantage points, and different vantage points,” Lewis said. “If they act in violation of the conditions of approval and best management practice, if they’re in violation, we’ll make some calls and turn them in.”

Extraction has planned several “best practices,” including electric drilling rigs, vapor recovery units that control 99.9 percent of emissions, and the use of special devices to lock in emissions during transfers of oil from tank to truck, building 12.5-foot-tall tanks instead of 20-foot tanks, and storing no waste on site. One innovation is called a “quiet fleet,” which Liberty Oil Field Services created for drilling in urban areas, which they say will reduce the roar of diesel engines in the hydraulic fracturing phase of the projects to a whisper.

“We partnered with Liberty to bring that to the basin,” Thingelstad said.

The company cannot drill five months out of the year at the Triple Creek site — from February to July — during the red-tail hawk’s nesting season.

Thingelstad said crews will drill the first few wells between now and February, and go back in to finish the job next summer. He said wells won’t be producing for a good year.

He said traffic — another neighborhood concern — is negligible in the area, which already sees more than 8,000 trips per day. Once drilling is over, there will be little to no traffic in and out of the site.

Next year, the city of Greeley plans to widen 71st Avenue, which will impact all traffic.

-Sharon Dunn, The Greeley Tribune

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