GREELEY, Colo. -- Concerned parents and homeowners bombarded the state's Oil and Gas Conservation Commission during a two-hour public hearing about a revamped proposal to drill near a local school, another flashpoint in Colorado's ongoing fracking fight and a microcosm of the still unsettled question of how much rights should be afforded to local communities concerned about oil and gas development.
The commission is currently considering a second proposal from Mineral Corporation to drill 19 wells 1,500 feet away from Frontier Elementary; it approved the company's initial plan to drill 67 wells within just 350 feet of the school, although Mineral Corporation backed away from that proposal after an outcry from concerned parents and local environmental groups.
"The COGCC is tasked to protect the public health safety and welfare of the people of Colorado," Sara Barwinski, a member of the group Weld Air and Water, testified Monday. "I think it’s fair to say that the COGCC has a major credibility problem.
"Until you actually stand up and say 'no' to such outrageous plans the public rightly perceives that the tail is wagging the dog — and it is industry and industry alone that chooses where to drill. We are asking for leadership from COGCC and especially from the Governor to restore balance and sanity into decision-making about oil and gas locations."
Angela Kirkpatrick, whose daughter is a fourth grader at Frontier Elementary, is worried that the current plan of setting the wells back 1,500 feet from the school's playground still isn't far enough given the risk of explosions and blow-outs.
"It scares me to death," she said. "I can't imagine anyone being so irresponsible to put children on the playground at that great of risk."
The state, which will likely rule on the proposal within the next month or two, said it must balance the concerns expressed by homeowners and parents with the mineral rights of oil and gas companies.
"We will never find that perfect balance, but we always strive to get as close to it as possible," said Tom Compton, the COGCC chairman.
Earlier this year, Gov. John Hickenlooper got the industry and environmentalists to agree on new air quality rules that make Colorado the first state in the country to regulate methane, a dangerous greenhouse gas.
"This administration has repeatedly adopted rules that are among the toughest in the nation, from chemical disclosure to groundwater protections to expanded setbacks and most recently rules to tightly limit methane emissions," said Mike King, executive director of the Colorado Dept. of Natural Resources.
"Engaged citizens in Greeley have participated in all of those processes, and we look forward to ongoing work with them as we continue regulating this important industry."