Patricia Nelson responds to new reporting from Colorado Public Radio.
Governor Polis, Director Putnam and Director Murphy,
What do you do when your child asks, “If something happens at school, will me and my friends be okay?” This is a question I couldn’t answer then, and I still cannot answer. My son is a student at Bella Romero Academy in Greeley, Colorado. In March 2017, the COGCC approved permits for a 24 well pad site, less than 700 feet from the playground at our 4th-8th grade campus. Our community has organized and spoken out against the construction of this industrial site for years, submitting comments and testimony to both the COGCC and CDPHE. Meanwhile, the COGCC argued in court that we did not have the legal standing to challenge the approval of the permits. We argued that the approval of the permits was arbitrary, capricious, and would put our children at risk.
For years, we have feared for the health and safety of the students and teachers at Bella Romero. We have feared exposure to carcinogens, leaks and explosions. We worried that the financial instability of Extraction Oil & Gas would leave the wells orphaned with no money to properly plug and seal them. All of those fears have become a reality, the only thing that hasn’t happened is an explosion. In November 2019, CPDHE reported elevated levels of Benzene at our school, this incident occurred less than 30 days after the agency published a health study that showed the “possibility of negative health impacts at distances from 300 ft out to 2000 ft” from oil and gas operations. On April 29, 2020, CDPHE put out a Statement of Errata, citing an error in the data collected that showed exposure levels were much higher than originally reported last year but said they “…do not expect the measured exposures to negatively affect the health of students.” Just a few days ago, I found out Extraction reported a leak at the Vetting site on the same week as the elevated Benzene levels were detected, this has not been mentioned by any agency. We demand transparency.
On the campaign trail, then-candidate Jared Polis told me that no parent should have to worry about something like this. In an email, his staff told me that he opposed this project. Not once has he publicly made this statement. Not once has he shown solidarity. “Let’s give SB-181 a chance to work.” The problem is SB-181 can’t protect families like mine who are already on the frontlines. Governor Polis, I hope you recall the time you told me you didn’t have the privilege to be an activist. We do not have the privilege to wait for rules, legislation, or lawsuits. We have tried it all and we are running out of time. The permits for this site would not be approved today if a Form 2A was submitted. Why? Because some rules have been changed citing Bella Romero.
I hope the new commissioners see the consequences of the actions taken by the former commission and become an agency that puts people over profits. The rulemaking must be completed before anymore permits are approved, especially during a respiratory pandemic. The industry can wait for the approval of their permits; the oil and gas underground isn’t going anywhere. The mission statement has been changed to, “…regulate the development and production of the natural resources of oil and gas in the state of Colorado in a manner that protects public health, safety, welfare, the environment and wildlife resources.” You are the only thing standing between a safe and healthy Colorado or a Colorado where the taxpayers are left scrambling to clean up a mess left by an industry that was not held accountable. We need change now, and we need you all to be that change.
I worry it will take something catastrophic before action is taken at Bella Romero Academy. You all, hide behind the risk of a lawsuit and choose not to take action to shut down the site behind our school. Your legacy will be the actions you take or your choice to ignore the danger. How many more leaks need to be detected? How many children need to get sick or get cancer? Or do they need to start dying? How long must they live with symptoms of exposure like headaches, nosebleeds and rashes. Our children and our community are suffering. Enough is enough. This is my son Diego, he is a Lobo. He is just one of hundreds of children who have been put at risk through no fault of their own. They all have a name, they all have a story, and you are risking their future. Do the right thing. Shut down the wells.