Lobe: Greeley fracking project discriminates against community

Cullen Lobe

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by the Collegian or its editorial board.

As a resident of Fort Collins, it’s hard not to smell the infamous ‘Greeley stink’ when the winds blow from east to west, but there is something else a bit more insidious that hangs in the air from the east: pollutants. 

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It is no question that the oil industry is drilling stateside at record rates, but a new fracking project in Greeley shows just how far they will go to get their product. Environmental racism, its health effects on children, and its proximity to a middle school are just a few reasons for a push to stop this project. Children are most at risk to air pollutants, and building a massive oil pad site this close to a school is not in the public interest.

There are currently over 23,000 active oil wells in Weld County, which puts them as one of the top oil and gas producers in the United States. The effects of such astonishing numbers can be felt not only across Colorado with poor air quality and land pollution, but also across the planet. In a Greenpeace.org article focusing on Colorado’s fracking companies admittance to air pollution, they say, “Methane is up to 105 times as powerful as carbon dioxide as a greenhouse pollutant. Scientists have theorized that fugitive emissions of methane from fracking wells could make gas worse than coal pollution for the climate.”

Despite the influences and destruction from the gas and oil industry, Greeley is one of northern Colorado’s treasures. With excellent restaurants and breweries, multiple holiday events and a good community to match, it’s no surprise that residents of the city are coming together to put their foot down to try and stop the continued push for more fracking by an industry that goes largely unregulated.

One project specifically, called ‘Vetting 15H‘ has brought multiple environmental groups together from across Colorado’s Front Range to put their minds and passion together, to what they believe is vital in not only protecting our environment, but also the livelihood of many Greeley residents. 

The project at hand is proposed by Denver based Extraction Oil and Gas – a 24-head directional well pad in close proximity to Bella Romero Academy, a middle school just outside Greeley city limits. To put into perspective just how large a 24 well pad site would be, it would be comparable to the size of a large mall.

This project would take up the entire field that is adjacent to Bella Romero’s playground and ball fields. Colorado environmental groups like Weld Air and Water, UNC Earth Guardians, 350 Colorado, and Sierra Club are dedicated to stopping this project.

Despite an ongoing lawsuit against this project, and detailed maps showing how runoff from the site would flow towards Bella Romero, construction is planned for January 2018. Construction itself will last over 500 days and consist of the use of 22 thousand trucking runs, according to Fractracker.org. These dangers, along with the proximity of the site to the school, puts Bella Romero Academy at #1 on the list of schools most vulnerable in Colorado.

Bella Romero’s playground with Vetting 15H’s proposed site just beyond the fence. | Credit: Cullen Lobe

“It is crucial to stop the Bella Romero project because the oil and gas industry is now desperate enough to put profits over the health and safety of children,”says Megan Meyer, founder of the Earth Guardians UNC chapter, “if we as a community do not stand against this project, we are essentially telling these corporations that we don’t care if our children are exposed to Benzene and other VOC’s while they play.” 

Meyer, a lifelong Greeley resident and student at UNC, is raising two young children of her own now and worries of the effects of fracking on her family.

Meyer gave me a tour of her city over the summer, and took me to multiple different fracking sites as well as the proposed site for the Bella Romero wells. One of oil pad sites was just hundreds of feet away from a playground where her children play. Not only can you see the giant machinery from the park, the smell was so bad that after we left we all felt sick.

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This project is also a clear-cut case of environmental racism. Extraction had originally planned on having this site in a predominately upper-class neighborhood, but after some complaints they decided to place it near Bella Romero Middle School. 92% of Bella Romero’s students are also from low income families. Not only this, but its student population has some of the highest minority rates in the county and are amongst the poorest.

According to coloradoschoolgrades.com, Bella Romero is 89% Hispanic or Latino and 3% African American whereas, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, Greeley as a whole is 59% White and 36% Hispanic or Latino. This can leave many families feeling like they are not in a position to speak out against this project, a common trend across America where multi-billion dollar corporations feel they have the power to stomp on the rights and livelihoods of our countries poor. I saw this at Standing Rock and Flint, and now, seeing it in Greeley brings this issue home. 

If you respect the environment, human rights, and community empowerment, rather than corporate greed and destruction, it is crucial to get involved in this fight. A fight that is taking place only 30 minutes away from Fort Collins.

The time for action is now. If you want to get involved, join the UNC Earth Guardians page on Facebook. UNC Earth Guardians are not exclusive to students. 

Opinion columnist Cullen Lobe can be reached at letters@collegian.com.