The New Neighbor of Weld County

WELD COUNTY – Scattered brick houses sit amid tidy farm fields in politically-conservative Weld County, the heart of Colorado’s oil and gas drilling boom.

Here, fossil fuel companies regularly tout their adherence to golden rule principles – treating your neighbor as you would want to be treated. The companies claim they want to be good neighbors.

But Amanda Harper, a local turned advocate, said she believes the oil and gas companies in her neighborhood have not lived up to their promise of being good neighbors.  For the past five years, Harper has watched the oil and gas facilities move closer and closer.

“It changed our life,” Harper said standing along a dusty road as her teenage son tended to the land with a shovel in front of her yellow brick country home.

Oil and gas facilities currently operate within one mile of the Harper’s country home. That distance is farther than the 500 feet buffer currently required under Colorado’s state regulations for oil and gas industry facilities. To Harper, the current limits fall far short and fail to mitigate drastic effects on her family’s life.

All day and night, big oil trucks drive by the dusty road where she stood talking with visitors.  Lights at the hydraulic fracturing sites outshine stars at night. Fearful of polluted air, the Harpers recently spent $900 for an air filter to clean the air in their home.

Harper has concern for her son’s health, living near fracking operations and the associated risks she believes in. Her family decided to dissolve their farm as a result of these risks. It got so bad for the Harpers that they moved to Longmont for eighteen months, renting out their once-utopian home. Now, Harper is back. What she questions today above all else is what the golden rule really means.

“They have no regard for being a good neighbor. A good neighbor wouldn’t have done that,” said Harper, referring to the latest big site around a mile north of her house near south boulder creek.

“It goes right into my stomach the falseness of that,” Harper said. She believes the oil and gas companies could have done more to be good neighbors in her community. Now, she wants the companies to get out of town.

This month, Colorado voters have the chance to vote on Proposition 112, which would push the minimum buffer distance required for oil and gas operations, including fracking, from the current 500 feet to 2,500 feet from houses, schools, and water sources. This change in the states regulatory landscape would apply only to future operations and site selection.

Harper said she’s counting on voters for what she believes is a step in the right direction.

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