Greeley officials have approved a plan that will allow 22 oil and gas wells within city limits. The massive project prompted strong opposition from some residents, and hundreds of people turned out for the hearing.
"I don’t think I’ve ever seen more people attend a city council meeting," said Sharon Dunn, business and energy reporter who covered the event for The Greeley Tribune.
"The amazing thing to me was not just those against the project showed up. There were hundreds of people for it – proudly for it. Oil and gas is a huge industry in Weld County, and it employs a lot of people. So there were a lot of workers out there, saying 'Look, this is a vital industry for your community.' And that’s the point they were trying to drive home."
Greeley’s planning commission initially rejected the Triple Creek Directional project in January, but Denver-based Extraction Oil and Gas appealed that decision to the city council. After hours of testimony Tuesday night, Mar. 8, the council approved the project by a 5-2 vote.
Although some councilors say they personally oppose the facility, many felt legally bound to approve it. State law prevents local governments from denying mineral owners access to those rights.
Interview Highlights With Sharon Dunn
What does it mean that this is happening in pro- oil and gas Greeley?
"I think Greeley is characterized as pro- oil and gas because we’re so used to it. We’ve had these development codes in place for a long time, and the novelty for many others in the Front Range is that this is new to their areas. Greeley -- it’s not so new. We’ve got a rule book in place for this development to happen. So I think the interesting part is that people are trying to organize and get their minds around the whole idea."
What convinced the city council to reverse the planning commission’s decision?
"The city of Greeley has a development code that spells out: this is what you have to do, from A to B to Z, to get your project through – whether it’s a gas station or an oil and gas drilling facility. And if companies meet those guidelines that the city has clearly spelled out for them, they should be approved because the city’s development code allows for these types of uses. So Extraction’s position was 'We’ve met these guidelines.' When the planning commission denied it [the project], it was more about public sentiment, in my opinion, from what I saw."
Wasn’t the governor’s oil and gas task force supposed to resolve these kinds of conflicts?
"I think a lot of people went in to those task force meetings thinking the task force would find a way to keep oil and gas out of residential areas. And other people thought that they would find a balance. And it’s hard, because there are so many people for and against it, so they had to find a balance, they had to reach a compromise. And that compromise was to find a way to locate oil and gas in a residential area and spark conversation between all surrounding uses. And I think that has created some confusion."