On Jan. 7, 2020, a group of students from Niwot High testified in front of the Boulder County Commissioners, calling on them to ban fracking in the face of a proposal for a huge drilling site just three miles from their school.
Simon Saia, co-leader of the Niwot High Environmental Club, was one of the students who testified at the meeting.
“I’m a junior in high school, and I’m here with my fellow Niwot High School Environmental Club students to bring awareness to the Crestone CDP and also ask for a permanent ban on all new oil and gas installments in Boulder County,” Saia testified.
Saia and the other students were calling on the county commissioners to take swift action to stop what could end up being one of the largest, if not the largest, drill site in the state.
In 2017, Crestone Peak Resources, a Denver-based drilling company, submitted a Comprehensive Drilling Plan (CDP) to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), a preliminary step in its quest to get permits for several large drilling sites in Boulder County. The first CDP submitted by the company contained plans for 216 wells at six drilling sites over 12 square miles in the eastern part of the county.
Following several revisions, Crestone’s latest plan calls for three sites containing 140 wells over 10 miles. A development of this scale is bigger than anything ever seen before in this region, and it’s causing many residents to speak out—including students like Saia.
“Once I started to learn more about it, yes, the proximity to my school, my community, and my loved ones and others definitely was the biggest driving force in trying to get involved against this getting installed,” he said. “So, without a doubt, just that fear of the health effects that could adversely affect me and others in my community was definitely the main driving force in getting involved in this project.”
Niwot High is three miles from the proposed fracking site. Students there have also testified about their concerns in front of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. Last year, they released a video calling on the Boulder County Commissioners to take strong action.
Maya Beauvineau, another member of the school’s environmental club, said the video was to appeal to the County Commissioners to enact strong regulations, but also to educate the community on the proposed drill site.
“I think that it was definitely a driving force for us to educate the community as well through that video, and it was interesting to see how many community members were shocked by the proximity of this site,” Beauvineau said.
Beauvineau added that youth voices are an important element in local opposition to the development and that their perspective shouldn’t be dismissed because they are young.
“I also think the youth voices are heavily under-represented in activism issues in general, and so I really felt like this was an opportunity for youth to get involved with an issue that directly impacts us because the site is so close to our school,” she said.
For its part, the county welcomes the youth input, according to Kate Burke, an attorney with Boulder County who works on oil and gas issues.
“We love to see that level of energy involvement, across all of the residents of the county, but especially in youth,” Burke said. “You know, I think we can all say that our future is in good hands when we see such impassioned, involved kids.”
Boulder County has filed multiple objections to Crestone’s proposal with the COGCC, as well as a lawsuit that alleged Crestone violated terms of existing leases in the county. That suit was dismissed, however, the Crestone’s proposal has stalled at the COGCC in the wake of Senate Bill 181. That legislation changed the mission of the agency. It must now prioritize public health, safety, and the environment before issuing permits. SB 181 also gave local communities greater control in regulating drilling.
If the COGCC allows Crestone’s application to move forward, it would then be subject to local review and much stronger scrutiny. In December, Boulder County Commissioners voted to increase regulation of the industry, including an increase in setbacks between people and wells to 2,500 feet in most cases. That’s even more than the state’s new setback standard of 2,000 feet.
This story is part of a series with the Rocky Mountain Community Radio collaboration on how fossil fuels impact the West.