Environmental groups sue state oil and gas commission over Greeley drilling proposal

Environmental and civil rights groups filed a lawsuit against the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission Tuesday, alleging that the regulatory agency violated its responsibility to protect public health and the environment when it approved a 24-well fracking site near Bella Romero Middle School in Greeley.

The plaintiffs, which include the Sierra Club, Weld Air and Water, the NAACP Colorado State Conference and Wall of Women, also say that the COGCC failed to adequately assess whether the site in question was as far as possible from the school and from nearby homes.

Denver-based driller Extraction Oil and Gas is preparing to drill 24 new oil and gas wells in Greeley, located about 1,350 feet from the walls of Bella Romero. The project complies with state law requiring that drilling operations be at least 1,000 feet from schools. But critics say the COGCC did not sufficiently evaluate alternative locations for the development.

“The State of Colorado is failing to protect our children,” said resident and environmentalist Therese Gilbert. “We are subjecting children to conditions that are dangerous at their point in physical development, and then expecting them to actively play in those conditions.”  

In an emailed statement, an Extraction spokesman wrote that the company “engaged in both an inclusive and very comprehensive process to obtain permits” for the site, and “that process was completed in compliance with all COGCC regulatory guidelines.” The location, he added, “was part of a series of alternative locations that were identified by Extraction to replace several older-vintage permitted locations, including the Gilbert, Sheep Draw and South Greeley sites.”

State Rep. Mike Foote of Denver proposed a bill that would have required oil and gas setbacks to be 1,000 feet from school property boundaries, not just school buildings. The Senate Committee on Agriculture, Natural Resources, & Energy postponed that bill indefinitely Wednesday afternoon.

Some critics are concerned that Extraction’s proposed project represents a threat to environmental justice, as it will significantly impact a low-income community of color. Bella Romero’s student body is 82 percent Hispanic or Latino.

“Communities of color are already disproportionately burdened by pollution and this is another example,” said Rosemary Lytle, State President of the NAACP Colorado State Conference. “No group of people should bear more than their share of impacts from industrial activities, yet it seems the COGCC does not even consider this.”

Todd Hartman, spokesman for the COGCC, says the agency is currently reviewing the lawsuit and does not yet have a comment.

Photo via the Bureau of Land Management