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Community fights massive drilling site planned near public school in low-income area

Community fights massive drilling site planned near public school in low-income area

Oil and gas company originally planned to drill in largely white, middle-class neighborhood.

An oil drilling operation near a subdivision in Weld County, Colorado. CREDIT: Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post via Getty Images
AN OIL DRILLING OPERATION NEAR A SUBDIVISION IN WELD COUNTY, COLORADO. CREDIT: HELEN H. RICHARDSON/THE DENVER POST VIA GETTY IMAGES
Residents of a city along Colorado’s Front Range are fighting the construction of a major oil and gas drilling site set to be completed next year near a public school attended mostly by low-income students of color.

Denver-headquartered Extraction Oil and Gas was originally awarded a permit in 2013 to drill up to 67 wells a few hundred feet away from Frontier Academy in Greeley, Colorado, a city with a population of over 100,000. The school is composed of children that come largely from white, middle-class families. The parents were not happy with the project and organized a movement against the project.

In 2014, in the face of the parents’ resistance, Extraction Oil and Gas opted to abandon the Frontier Academy site, in southern Greeley. The company instead turned its attention to a different site on the eastern side of the city. In May 2016, the company filed an application with the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) for the project.

This new location also was within a thousand feet of a school. The school, Bella Romero Academy, serves mostly working-class Latinx families. Nearly 90 percent of its children qualify for free and reduced-price lunches.

In June 2016, the Weld County board of commissioners unanimously approved a special use permit that would allow Extraction Oil and Gas to build a 24-well pad project, known as the Vetting site, near the Bella Romero Academy campus. The industrial project will be located about 1,350 feet from the school building but about 500 feet from the school’s playground and ball fields. In March 2017, the COGCC issued permits for the project. With all of its necessary permits, the company hopes to complete the project sometime in 2019.

Last spring, a group of residents joined environmental groups to file a lawsuit in Denver County (Colorado) District Court against the COGCC for approving the project. According to the lawsuit, Extraction Oil and Gas stated that the Frontier Academy was “not ideal” for oil and gas development because of its proximity to the school and playground. The playground at the Frontier Academy, however, was further away from the proposed development than the playground and ball fields at the Bella Romero Academy.

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