Denver, CO — Today, a coalition of environmental and civil rights groups , Weld Air and Water, the Sierra Club, NAACP Colorado State Conference, and Wall of Women 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, CO city limits. 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 is poised to drill 24 new oil and gas wells a mere 1,350 feet from the walls of Bella Romero — and even closer to the athletic fields where the students play outside. The groups contend that approving the project in this predominantly low-income neighborhood will endanger the community. Scientific studies have repeatedly demonstrated that air pollution caused by fracking operations contribute to acute and chronic health problems, including neurological and respiratory effects, especially among children who are more likely to suffer asthma attacks after being exposed to these pollutants.
“The State of Colorado is failing to protect our children,” said Therese Gilbert, speaking on behalf of dozens of residents who live in the area. “We are subjecting children to conditions that are dangerous at their point in physical development, and then expecting them to actively play in those conditions.”
“The toxic pollution and health impacts from fracking are well known, and this project should never have been approved,” said Will Walters, chair of the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the Sierra Club. “We asked for a hearing from the COGCC last summer and again two weeks ago, but it fell on deaf ears. They left us no choice but to go to court.”
“This is about serious health risks for our children, who are more susceptible to pollution” says Patricia Nelson, parent of a Bella Romero student. “It is the State’s responsibility to protect us and they are not doing their job.”
According to the Colorado Department of Education, Bella Romero’s student population is 10.5% white (not Hispanic), 82.2% Latino or Hispanic, 6% African American, and 1% Asian.
“Communities of color are already disproportionately burdened by pollution and this is another example,” said Rosemary Lytle, State President of the NAACP Colorado State Conference. “No group of people should bear more than their share of impacts from industrial activities, yet it seems the COGCC does not even consider this.”
“As someone who lives in the neighborhood near where this drilling would happen we are concerned for our quality of life,” said Shirley Smithson of Wall of Women. “Fracking operations involve huge noisy drills and vibration at all hours plus heavy traffic that has no place in any community.”
“The timing of the lawsuit is critical because a bill is up for a vote in committee at the State Legislature Wednesday on whether to establish setbacks from school athletic fields and not just from buildings,” explains Jack Stokan of the Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law. “The existing setbacks are not designed to protect people from health impacts, and here the COGCC did not ensure that the project is “as far away as possible” from buildings as the law requires.”
“If a parent were to subject their child to the dangers of hydrocarbon fume filled tanks like we saw exploding out by the Greeley airport on April 17th, 2015, or a produced water tank exploding as we saw in Lucerne on March 10th, 2014, their suitability as parents would rightly be questioned. And the state’s suitability to protect the welfare of its citizens should be questioned in this case as well, especially since the citizens in question are too young to speak for themselves.” said Carl Erickson from Weld Air and Water (while testifying before a House committee on distance from schools).
Click here to read the full complaint filed April 11, 2017