Although Encana announced it would pull out of Erie and halt drilling at the Pratt site, that has not exactly happened just yet. They needed to complete the drilling of the well that they started before they could cap it and close down operations. Some Vista Ridge neighbors have complained that it has been the noisiest week yet.
On Wednesday evening, I attended a meeting for residents who are interested in learning more about our legal rights in battling this drilling/fracking operation. Approximately 25 people came out to listen to attorneys Matt Sura and Eric Huber, both of whom have experience in representing the rights of individual towns and homeowners who are impacted by oil and gas operations.
Here are the key points I took away from the meeting:
1. There are 52,000 oil/gas wells in the state of Colorado. 40% of these wells lie within Weld County. (Part of Erie is within Weld County; part of it is within Boulder County). There are only 27 inspectors for 52,000 wells — so essentially the industry does its own inspections.
2. Only 10% of wells in Colorado are drilled in residential areas, so what we are experiencing is not common. However, this will become more commonplace as the oil and gas industry continues to expand.
3. The oil and gas industry is EXEMPT from all zoning. So even though we live within a “residential” area, Encana can come in and operate under “light industrial” noise regulations. (However, as we all know, they exceeded the noise limits even for “light industrial” which is why we became a newsworthy bunch of complainants).
4. As complainants, we have rights. (This is why it is absolutely essential that EVERY resident who has been bothered by noise, vibrations, and odors fill out a complaint form 18 with the COGCC. It is not too late. Go fill out the form online today). Now that we have filed official complaints, we have the right to be a part of the resolution process through a hearing with the COGCC. For example, we can ask for the drilling operation to be moved further away from our homes. We can ask for air quality monitoring. We can ask them NOT to flare. (Matt Sura was appalled when residents described flames towering above the sound barrier walls. He said they absolutely do not need to do that. It is inexcusable).
5. Another tact we can take is to file a “nuisance” lawsuit. We have the right to enjoy our property and our homes. A neighbor cannot come in and jackhammer for 10 hours per day. If they do that, we call the police and make them stop. In the case of oil/gas drilling, we can file a lawsuit because they have created such a noise and air pollution nuisance, that we have been unable to enjoy our properties and remain within our homes.
6. The oil and gas industry has a lot of power and protections. However they do not like bad press. (Thank you Boulder Daily Camera and ABC news for reporting the problems we have experienced!).
7. A retired geophysicist present at the meeting rebuffed the widely circulated theory that Encana ran into a “geologic anomaly” that caused the drilling to be louder and more difficult than normal. He explained how they first come through and map the area; they have a very good understanding of what they are drilling into. (Side note: Despite the elaborate mapping methods, they did not realize that they would be digging up garbage as they laid pipeline. How did they miss this? http://www.dailycamera.com/erie-news/ci_27063693/encana-submits-plan-investigation-into-erie-trash)
8. Everyone should keep a diary of events. If we do pursue a lawsuit and/or COGCC hearing, we will want specific events to use as evidence to back up our claims.
9. Fracking is supposedly twice as loud as the drilling process. SERIOUSLY? TWICE AS LOUD AS WHAT WE HAVE ALREADY EXPERIENCED? (Side note: I have this dream of creating my own fracking commercial, as a parody of the pro-fracking commercials we see all the time on TV. In it, we would have the beautiful view of the mountains, and our homes in Vista Ridge and Vista Pointe, families sending kids to school in the morning…..with that awful rig in the background. We would show a mom waking up in the middle of the night to the cries of her kids who are having nightmares about monsters because of the loud noise. It could end with the video of the flames shooting up above the sound barrier wall. If we put it together on You Tube, maybe it would go viral).
When I returned home from the meeting that night, I was energized by the possible avenues we can pursue in order to prevent Encana from coming back and starting this drilling process again. As I started to explain everything to my husband (who wasn’t feeling well, and was already lying in bed), he said, “Wait. Do you hear that?” Of course. It’s the low hum of the drilling operation at the Pratt site. It always seems to get louder and more noticeable at night. And we live in Vista Pointe.
There many reasons for us to band together as residents of Erie. Some of us are experiencing noise/vibration worse than anything you can imagine. Some of us are fortunate enough to have it a little easier — for now. The issue is, if we don’t all fight to help each other, others of us will be in the same situation in a few months (i.e. if Encana decides to come back and develop the Waste Connections site). There are also new sites that are up for permit approval (Morgan Hill is one of them). The hub proposal is also extremely concerning: http://www.co.weld.co.us/assets/d3c91c3Ca17271A29361.pdf. We need to work with our Town Trustees and Mayor to protect residential areas. I also think the town should look into retaining Matt Sura’s services to help our town establish tougher regulations.
As I have watched local awareness of the oil and gas industry operations unfold, I have become increasingly impressed with the level of intelligence and education of my neighbors who are posting articles and opinions on the Pratt and WC well monitoring Facebook Page. We have a lot of good people in Erie. Let’s continue to work together to fight for our rights.