Fracking – Exploration at any costs?

Everyone is relying on oil for the car or gas for heating in one or the other way. Bur are well pads near schools and pipelines running underground through cities and residential areas a good way to make use of this resources?

By September 2017, 2479 new drilling permits were issued in Colorado.

And by a decision of the city council in the early morning of October 25, 2017, Broomfield will join the ranks with 84 new oil and gas wells. Despite heavy protest and 90 people from the area and the neighboring counties raising their concerns about proposed drilling, the agreement with Extraction Oil & Gas Inc. passed with a 6-4 vote.

A Colorado’s Supreme Court decision in 2016, gave oil and gas operators in Colorado the right to drill, overruling moratoriums and fracking-bans of several Front Range Cities, including Boulder, Longmont and Fort Collins.

Broomfield leaders feared that if they hadn’t approved the agreement, the company would have drilled the wells anyway, but with less stringent safeguards. With this agreement, the city ensured „safety protocols beyond the state regulations,“ as a report from CBS Denver quotes Broomfield‘s mayor. These measures include noise regulations, air monitoring and a 1000-feet distance from drillings sites to homes.

Operation pad with compressor, separators, well and storage facilities near Northridge High School in Greeley. [Anne Hennig]
What impacts drilling could have for Broomfield can be observed in Weld County, north of Denver, which is “the most fracked county in America,” according to Daniel Glick, journalist and author of the “Fractured” series in The Colorado Independent. As of September 2017, 23,589 of Colorado’s 54,369 active wells are located in Weld County, according to the latest report of the the county’s government.

One must take a closer look to recognize the approximately playground-sized well pads, which are often within residential districts or scattered around the open spaces. Drilling rigs are typically surrounded by sand-colored walls 16 to 32 feet high that are supposed attenuate sound. They blend in with the mainly agricultural landscape.

But the walls cannot protect the neighborhoods from the sounds associated with the drilling and transportation processes.

„It was the night before Thanksgiving in 2014,” explained Monica Korber from Erie, “I am lying in bed, I am hearing this, like, vibration noise that sounded like an old motor of a truck or something, outside my bedroom window.” But she could not find a truck outside. After a couple of days, she found out that these were drilling noises from the rig, which seems to have been put up overnight in her neighborhood.

Dawn Stein from Greeley is most affected by the noise from the constant traffic. Over 100,000 roundtrips of trucks with oil, gas or “produced water” are expected to use the access road that runs only 35 feet past her bedroom window. For the next 25 to 30 years, 24/7, year-round.

Lowell Lewis‘ porch is a little more than 1000 feet away from the drilling site – but it feels much closer. [Anne Hennig]
The companies should apply the best available technology to “ensure that natural gas extraction does not come at the expense of public health and the environment,” as stated by the Environmental Protection Agency.

But Lowell Lewis said, this is not what the company is doing in his neighborhood. He is part of Neighbors affected by Triple Creek, a group of Greeley residents who are currently suing the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission for want of care in choosing and handling the drilling site, which is just a little more than 1000 feet away from his backyard.

Residents are not only suffering from noise. Odor is also a big issue. And some people are experiencing significant physical effects. “There are a lot of people here that have experienced nose bleeds,” Korber said. And he himself has been affected by another ailment. “I developed asthma earlier this year. I have never had health problems, except for the past couple of years living here.”

Korber says, she has a constant, nagging cough. “They call it a fracking cough,” she said. “There is no way to prove it, you know, no doctor will probably sign of on it.” But for her it seems more than a random coincident that all of her neighbors have the same problems. “It’s headaches, nausea, fatigue, especially during the fracking stage,” Korber explained, “I am sure that they exceeded 65 db.” Which is roughly the noise of a constant working vacuum cleaner. Sometimes 24 hours a day.

Some say, it must first come to deaths, before they realize something has to be done, said Glick. But even after a horrible house explosion in Firestone earlier this year, where two people were killed and one was severely injured, no actions have been taken. During installation works, gas leaked from an assumed closed and capped vertical well into the house and caused an enormous explosion.

In Triple Greek, Extraction is drilling 6000-7000 feet down and until 2,5 miles east with 22 wells in a row, explained Lewis. The pipelines flow under municipal areas, parks, trails, residential areas, football stadiums and playgrounds. No one really knows, where active lines go, and only 10 percent of abandoned flow lines have yet been mapped, says Glick. Because Oil and Gas companies say they are afraid of terrorist attacks.

Well site within a residential neighborhood in Erie. [Anne Hennig]
Drilling site in Monica Korber’s neighborhood in Erie. [Anne Hennig]

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