On Tuesday April 11th, a coalition of environmental and civil rights groups filed a lawsuit in State Court, challenging the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) approval of a large oil and gas fracking project next to Bella Romero Middle School just outside Greeley. The groups contend COGCC did not adequately assess whether the site was as far away as possible from the school and nearby houses and that it violated its duty to protect public health and the environment.
Extraction Oil and Gas has been granted a permit to drill 24 new oil and gas wells 1,350 feet from the school buildings of Bella Romero. Current state rules bar production facilities from being built closer than 1,000 feet from a school building, however that has been criticized as inadequate as it does not protect students on playgrounds or sports-fields which can often be much closer to the rigs.
Will Walters of the Sierra Club Rocky Mountain Chapter, one of the groups involved in the suit, says that the state frequently violates its own standards in allowing oil and gas operations too close to schools and residential areas. “Well you’ve got the fox guarding the hen house. You have an oil and gas conservation commission charged with regulating the oil and gas industry but it is itself staffed by oil and gas industry insiders.”
One of the groups involved in the suit is the NAACP. Will Walters says that what is happening in Greeley is typical of the specific impact of this type of activity on communities of color and low-income communities.
“We’ve seen it time and time again…whether it’s communities of color or communities that are economically disadvantaged are taken advantage of basically due to their lack of or shortage of political power.”
A new piece of legislation currently being debated at the state legislature, House Bill 1256, would apply the current 1,000-foot setback, to a school’s property line rather than a building. Existing wells and permitted sites would be grandfathered in.
The measure, introduced by State Representative Mike Foote D-Lafayette, passed the Democratic controlled House. It now goes to a vote in the Republican controlled Senate.
The Colorado Municipal League and broad coalition of civic and environmental groups support the bill saying it closes a loop hole in current regulations and is needed to protect the health and safety of students around the state.
Garfield County Commissioners recently passed a resolution opposing House Bill 1256, saying current regulations are robust enough. The oil and gas industry has also opposed the measure.