Greeley homeowners are heartened by an announcement from Extraction Oil and Gas today that the company will install a transport pipeline at its Triple Creek development site, eliminating the need for almost two dozen large storage tanks and thousands of truck trips to and from the area.
Extraction said in a statement that after two years, it has finally completed all “comprehensive engineering, commercial and land use steps” necessary to confirm the use of the pipeline.
Without the pipeline, which will carry produced oil to a regional terminal located northeast of Greeley, Extraction estimates that it would take approximately 100,000 truckloads over 25 years to transport all of the extracted hydrocarbons.
But despite the announcement, a group of Triple Creek residents will nonetheless move forward with a lawsuit against the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), the state’s oil and gas regulatory agency, which they charge failed to use its authority to require Extraction to build the pipeline.
The Triple Creek development site has been a topic of great controversy for months. Extraction included plans for a pipeline in a final project proposal it submitted in 2014. But in November 2015, the company told homeowners that the then-low price of oil made the construction of a pipeline cost prohibitive.
Frustrated residents formed a group called Neighbors Affected by Triple Creek to fight back. They worked aggressively against the project, imploring elected bodies from Greeley City Council to the COGCC to shut it down.
In 2016, the group filed suit against the COGCC, alleging that the agency had failed to adhere to its own rules in approving the project.
Those rules say that the COGCC must require drillers to locate developments “as far as possible” from residential areas and, if such an alternative site is not available, the agency can require operators to use “best available technologies” to minimize the impacts of drilling.
Neighbors complain that the COGCC chose not to require that Extraction minimize its impacts. “We can point to multiple experiences from meetings and phone conversations when the COGCC blatantly took the side of the operator,” said resident Lowell Lewis. “We were left with no choice but to file a lawsuit to protect our homes, our families and our neighbors.”
A spokesman for the COGCC has previously told The Colorado Independent that the agency will not comment on the suit.
Triple Creek neighbors said one operator’s actions do not eliminate the need for the suit. “We acknowledge Extraction’s efforts in voluntarily doing the right thing,” said Triple Creek resident Christie Malnati in a statement. “But this has changed nothing as regards our lawsuit against the COGCC”.
The COGCC has been the target of significant criticism in recent weeks following its decision to seek an appeal in a case brought by Boulder teenager Xiuhtezcatl Martinez. A Colorado Court of Appeals recently ruled in favor of Martinez and a group of teenagers, who say that Colorado should not issue any new permits for oil and gas drilling unless it can be confirmed that the drilling will not “impair Colorado’s atmosphere, water, wildlife, and land resources, does not adversely impact human health and does not contribute to climate change.”
Last week, Attorney General Cynthia Coffman granted the COGCC’s request for an appeal. The agency says that the requirement would hobble its ability to carry out its mission, which it says is to balance oil and gas industry interests against public health, safety and welfare.
The Triple Creek development currently includes 22 wells and 22 oil tanks less than 1,000 feet from at least 14 homes.
Calling its Triple Creek site “a blue-ribbon development,” Extraction said it has introduced measures intended to reduce the impacts of drilling on nearby residents, including “the use of an electric-powered drilling rig, ‘ultra-quiet’ completions fleet, electric-powered compression and extensive landscaping.” The company also plans to remove and reclaim 10 existing wells throughout Greeley.
Acknowledging that the path to the pipeline was “by no means an overnight process,” Extraction president Matthew Owens said in a statement, “An oil pipeline solution has always been part of our plan for Triple Creek.”
The operator says the pipeline will be completed before first oil production at the site, which is planned for early 2018.
Photo credit: Ted Wood/The Story Group