Greeley neighbors sue state, saying oil-gas rules weren’t enforced
DENVER — Residents in a Greeley neighborhood are suing state oil and gas regulators, saying they didn’t do enough to protect residents from the disruption and danger of a big energy facility planned near their homes.
The lawsuit filed Friday in Denver District Court is believed to be the first court test of new Colorado rules intended to ease conflicts arising when oilfields overlap with growing cities.
At issue is a plan for 22 wells and about two dozen tanks at the Triple Creek site in a west Greeley pasture surrounded by homes. Neighbors say the site will generate heavy, round-the-clock truck traffic and expose them to risk from fumes and spills.
The lawsuit alleges regulators ignored rules requiring energy developers to use technologies such as pipelines to transport the oil.
Triple Creek was the first large-scale project approved under new state rules that were supposed to offer 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. 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.
Neither the commission nor the oil and gas company had any immediate comment.
One of the residents who filed the suit, Lowell Lewis, said he and his neighbors know they cannot block the project, but they want state regulators to require more precautions to make it safer and less disruptive.
They want Extraction to build a pipeline to ship the oil away from the site, instead of storing it in tanks near the wells and then hauling it away in heavy tanker trucks, as the current plan allows.
The trucks will use a road about 50 feet from the bedroom window of one resident, 60-year-old Dawn Stein, Lewis said. The lawsuit estimates that trucks will make more than 100,000 trips on the road over a 27.5-year period.
A pipeline would minimize truck traffic and reduce the danger of spills and air pollution when the oil is transferred from stationary storage tanks to trucks, Lewis said.
The lawsuit says that under rules the oil and gas commission adopted in January, Extraction Oil and Gas should have been required to do a more thorough review of pipelines or other technology to reduce the disruption to neighbors. The lawsuit also says the rules required Extraction to conduct a more extensive review than was done of alternative sites.
The commission adopted those regulations after a long rule-making process launched three years ago by Gov. John Hickenlooper — a Democrat and former petroleum engineer who is seen as generally friendly toward the oil and gas industry.
Hickenlooper wanted to address tensions that arise frequently in Colorado, where fast-growing cities and drilling rigs often expand into the same areas at almost the same time.
The governor established a task force to recommend new rules to the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. The recommendations and rules fell far short of what many environmental groups and local governments wanted, but they did include guidelines for large oil and gas projects in urban areas, such as the one in Lewis’ neighborhood.
“What’s the point in writing these rules in the first place if you’re not going to follow them?” said Lewis, whose home is within 1,500 feet of the planned site.
“We want to hold Gov. Hickenlooper accountable for the actions of the (oil and gas commission). We are asking them to implement the letter and the intent of his oil and gas task force,” he said.
Lewis said the outcome of the Greeley project is important because it will set a precedent for other big developments in residential areas.
This is a developing story. It will be updated as more information becomes available.
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Former Carbondale trustee Katrina Byars said she wants to bring a voice of environmental sustainability to the commission, and believes her opponent has served long enough.