A neighborhood group in Greeley, working with University of Denver’s Environmental Law Clinic, has filed a lawsuit against the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission alleging that the state agency is not following its own regulations to protect neighborhoods.
“The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is failing to protect neighborhoods,” said Lowell Lewis, speaking on behalf of his family and dozens of residents who live in his west Greeley neighborhood. “We were left with no choice but to file a lawsuit to protect our homes, our families and our neighbors.”
At issue is a COGCC decision to approve an oil and gas location with 22 wells and 22 oil tanks in the middle of their residential neighborhood. The complaint states that “The noise, lights, odors, and traffic from the months of 24-hour, seven-day-a-week oil and gas development will adversely affect all neighbors of Triple Creek. Neighbor Dawn Stein, in particular, will be adversely affected by the non-stop oil and gas traffic that will be utilizing the access route that was permitted only 50 feet from her bedroom window.”
Extraction Oil and Gas Inc. received COGCC approval in October and has already graded the project area and bulldozed a new access road to the site. It has also set up 16 and 32-foot walls around the home of Dawn Stein whose property is only 15-feet from the new oil and gas access route.
“They have turned my home into a prison,” stated Stein. “My view of the mountains to the west is now a 32-foot high wall.” Extraction estimates that drilling and fracking the 22 wells will require more than 50,000 vehicles entering or exiting the access route – 24 hours a day, seven days a week. ***See attached table and photos.
Extraction Oil and Gas has stated that its drilling operations will start in December and will likely extend through 2018. Each well will extend 2.5 mile horizontally – the longest laterals ever drilled in Colorado.
Initially, the group of neighbors that calls itself “Neighbors Affected by Triple Creek” was hopeful. In June, the COGCC announced that new “Large Urban Mitigation Area” rules (a.k.a. “Neighborhood Drilling rules”) would be applied to Extraction’s proposed “Triple Creek” site located in a residential neighborhood in Greeley. The new rules, passed in January, were the most substantive outcome of the Governor’s Oil and Gas Task Force and were meant to ensure that large oil and gas facilities (more than 8 wells at a location) may only be located in residential areas as a last resort. The rules require 1) an alternative location analysis to determine if a location farther from homes is available and 2) the use of “best available technologies” in the event there were no better sites and the oil and gas facilities had to be located near homes.
In the lawsuit, the Neighbors Affected by Triple Creek allege that the COGCC did not enforce its requirement for an alternative location analysis nor did it require the use “best available technologies.”
“Best available technologies for Triple Creek should require the use of a gathering line or a pipeline to move the oil and gas away from our neighborhood,” stated Nelly Morales, a nearby resident. “Our biggest concern is the air pollution from the oil tanks and the amount of tanker-truck traffic that is going to be coming and going from the site for the next 25 years.”
Extraction initially promised neighbors it would use an oil pipeline but then rescinded that promise due to financial concerns when oil plummeted to below $50 / barrel. The COGCC has steadfastly maintained that, despite its new regulations, it will not require the use of pipelines or an off-site production facility if there will be an additional cost to the operator.
Just last month, Extraction went public and raised a surprising $633 million from their initial public offering. That was $120 million more than Extraction had expected.
Last week, Extraction’s project manager Blane Thingelstad told the Greeley Tribune that oil pipelines were going to be brought to the location, “It’s just a matter of when,” he said.
Lewis summed up the lawsuit, “The COGCC regulations require best available technologies, Extraction can clearly afford pipelines, Extraction has (once again) publicly promised pipelines, so we are hopeful that the District Court will step in and require pipelines.”
The group is also appealing to Governor Hickenlooper to intervene. “If the COGCC is not following its rules to protect neighborhoods in Greeley, they are not likely to protect neighborhoods in Longmont, Erie, Broomfield, or even Denver. Just imagine the new neighborhood groups that the Governor and the COGCC will get to know,” Lewis stated wryly.
Home of Dawn Stein next to half-completed sound wall