The city council in Greeley, CO, located in oil and natural gas-rich Weld County, on Tuesday overturned its planning commission and approved a 22-well development by a 5-2 vote.
The planning commission earlier this year had denied in a 6-0 vote a request by Denver-based Extraction Oil and Gas Co. to begin the Triple Creek Oil and Gas Directional Project.
The council, which represents 100,000 people in a city about 50 miles northeast of Denver, on Tuesday heard six hours of testimony before agreeing that state law prohibits mineral rights owners from being denied access to their rights. The council set a special hearing to air the appeal of the planning commission's action.
The Extraction proposal is "too large, too intense" for the area, but council member Randy Sleight conceded that property rights couldn't be ignored and the operator had done everything it had been asked to do by the city. The plans call for a 14-acre drilling area on a 69-acre property.
The project calls for 22 oil and gas wells, 22 separators, 22 crude oil tanks and two produced water tanks on property now zoned as low-density residential.
Extraction President Matt Owens said at the city council hearing that the company can only operate seven months out of the year, and in the off months its crews may be able to work on roads in the area. The operator also committed to drilling with electric rigs and compressors, and applying special emission capturing equipment.
Extraction attorneys noted that the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) already had concluded that the Triple Creek area would be a better site and have less of an impact on the general public.
Mayor Tom Norton, who voted to reverse the commission ruling, said Extraction had "satisfied the requirements of the code and completed all the things that are technically available to them to do," but he said he understood the concerns of residents living near the project area.
Council member Sandi Elder, who sided with the commission, acknowledged that she has had wells in her backyard and had no problems.
"I'm for development, but I've rarely gone against our own planning commission," Elder said.
Ultimately, the mineral owners' rights prevailed, said Councilman Mike Finn. "I think [Extraction] worked with the staff, met all the standards laid out, and they certainly have the property rights.”