This story has all the makings of a David and Goliath narrative. A low-income community fights back against a big fossil fuel company that has chosen to site a fracking operation right near their school. Moreover, their neighborhood was chosen after another location – where the school had a 77 percent white student body in a middle-class locale – pushed back. As a result, those plans were abandoned.
A new vicinity was picked to serve as a fracking field. It is near the Bella Romero Academy, located in the Greeley-Evans School District 6 of Weld County, Colorado. It has a demographic of 87 percent children of color. The children attend fourth through eighth grade.
Colorado has seen a huge increase in fracking.
This is because the state has the Niobrara Shale formation within its borders. Companies are eager to put down leases on land where they expect to find natural gas at levels of 3,000 to 14,000 feet below the earth’s surface.
There are several key players in this struggle:
- The Extraction Oil and Gas Company, based in Denver.
- The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC).
- Those filing a lawsuit against the COGCC.
The lawsuit, filed on the grounds that the approval of the site didn’t address health impacts, specifically underscores concerns registered in public comments.
The dissenting parties pointed out that fracking activity was neither far enough away from where children would be on school playgrounds, the school building itself, nor surrounding homes.
The numbers barely meet the regulations set up by the state. Fracking must be 500 feet away from houses. The offered proposal puts them at 509 feet. Schools must be 1,000 feet away from fracking sites; 1360 feet is the distance from the Bella Romero school to the proposed twenty-four well pads.
Research outlines the ground-level effect upon people living near fracking sites — the average size being 7.5 acres. A constant influx of truck traffic, as driving to and from the area is a given. Potential construction of new roads. Vehicles carry dangerous fluids and emit emissions, adding to air pollution. Gas flares may be present. Materials used in the process must be removed. The process is noisy. Drilling can run around the clock.
Fracking wells bring a disproportionate health impact to the surrounding residents.
Particulate matter and fumes lead to asthma attacks, skin rashes, lung impairment, and nose bleeds. Children are especially vulnerable.
I spoke with Paddy McClelland, leader of Wall of Women, a grassroots environmental group in Colorado. They are one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. “The situation is an atrocity,” McClelland told me. “It’s an example of environmental racism.”
The area is 89 percent Hispanic. According to the EPA Screening and Mapping Tool, there is also the issue of “linguistic isolation.” Add in the fact that there may be undocumented family members, and the chances for vocal outrage from residents is greatly diminished.
McClelland informed me that there are 50,000 fracking wells in Colorado, of which 29,000 are in Weld County. That number is greater than all the wells in Pennsylvania.
“We have 5 inspectors for the whole state,” McClelland said. “Methane is the most dangerous of all the greenhouse gases.” She outlined how the soccer field for the kids was virtually adjacent to the proposed wells, and that the measurements used by the Extract Oil and Gas Company was a figure derived as a measurement from the back door of the school –not the playing fields.
Mothers speak out.
“It’s time. As mothers, we have to stand up for our children and the planet,” McClelland said emphatically.
Megan Meyer, a community resident, is the mother of two young children under six. She is currently getting her Masters in Environmental Policy and Management. We spoke by phone about the on-the-ground situation.
On the methodology used to determine the distance from the school to the fracking site, Meyer told me, “The bricks are protected, but the kids aren’t.” She added, “If this project is completed, Bella Romero will become the most fracked school in the United States.”
Meyer discussed the how the community had been taken advantage of by the fossil fuels companies. After the recession, residents were in desperate need of jobs. Despite health hazards, they were willing to take the risks associated with the industry, to support their families.
“If the Extraction Oil and Gas Company completes the project near Bella Romero Academy, the children will be at an increased risk of respiratory infections, asthma, developmental delays, and childhood cancer,” Meyer stressed. “It is essential that people speak out against this project, and against other egregious acts like this, that impact future generations.”
The case is currently in appeal, since a judge sided with the Extraction Oil and Gas Company. “Legality is not morality,” Meyer said flatly.
“As a mother, I believe that all children should have the right to play without being exposed to toxic chemicals”.
Photo: Courtesy of unicornriot.ninja