A poor, mostly Hispanic neighbourhood in a mid-sized Colorado city is pushing back with the help of the activist community and the local school board, after an oil and gas fracking company decided to move a drilling site from a more affluent part of town to a spot close to its community school.
In 2014, in the face of determined, well-financed parental opposition, Denver-based Extraction Oil and Gas abandoned a plan to drill nearly 70 wells a few hundred feet away from Frontier Academy, an elementary school attended mostly by white, middle class children in Greeley.
Four years later, Think Progress reports, the same company has received all the necessary permits from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) to open another drilling site in a much poorer part of the city, near Bella Romero Academy, an elementary school attended mostly by children of working class Hispanic families.
The company has started construction and hopes to begin production in 2019. The community around Bella Romero has other plans.
Last April, with support from a coalition that includes the U.S. Sierra Club and the Colorado chapter of the NAACP, the residents sued the COGCC for approving the project. Central to the lawsuit, Think Progress notes, is that while Extraction Oil and Gas is on record as stating that “the Frontier Academy [site] was ‘not ideal’ for oil and gas development because of its proximity to the school and playground,” it has been permitted to steamroll ahead with a project much closer to Bella Romero.
“It is this stark disparity that raises concerns of environmental justice at Bella Romero Academy,” the plaintiffs stated in their lawsuit. “The commission and operators generally experience the least amount of pushback when siting major oil and gas development in predominantly minority communities since these communities do not have the same resources as more affluent communities.”
Coming to the defence of its own disenfranchised community, the local school board opposed the drilling site in a unanimous motion in January, contending that noise and pollution “could disrupt the educational environment for students and staff”. It called on Weld County commissioners and state regulators to “reconsider their approval of the project”.
“Project opponents are [also] concerned about Extraction Oil and Gas’ safety record,” Think Progress states, ever more so in the wake of a December explosion and fire at one of the company’s other drilling sites in a town 15 miles from Greeley. That blaze took a full day for firefighters to extinguish.
A judge’s ruling on the Greeley case is now pending.