Dawn Stein stood in her front yard, shaded by a canopy of rustling, century-old cottonwood trees. A well-manicured lawn surrounded her tidy white house. On Dawn’s front porch, a low table and chairs beckoned a relaxing summer afternoon of gazing out over her Greeley, Colorado neighborhood. A massive sound wall blocked the view, however, and dwarfed both the six-foot fence and even her house.
“Before they started drilling, Extraction Oil and Gas surrounded my property with a 32-foot sound wall,” Dawn said. “It was horrible. You couldn’t even see the sun. It was like being in prison. The company never talked to me before putting up the wall.” The tops of drill rigs sited about a thousand feet from Dawn’s house, rose above the looming walls. An oilfield truck drove by on the access road just behind the wall, lofting dust into the air. The wall hid the crunch of the truck’s tires on the gravel, but only dulled the low grunt of the diesel engine. Both the dust and the industrial sounds drifted over the walls making the air taste dry and feel heavy. Even with the walls in place, the noise impacted her life, which was surprising because Dawn isdeaf.
“In some ways, I’m glad that this happened to me because I’m deaf and can’t hear all the awful noises,” she said. “When I have folks over who hear normally they always ask: ‘how can you live with the noise?’ And I have to remind them that I am deaf.”
Being deaf didn’t mean she couldn’t feel the sounds of oil development. From the easily explained rumble of water trucks to the more ominous shakes and booms that rattled the whole house and left pictures crooked on the walls, the noise still impacted Dawn. The Triple Creek project, a complex of 22 wells in Dawn’s neighborhood is just one example of oil and gas development moving into residential areas. As industry moves closer to homes, it brings the dangers with it, from noise to truck traffic, to even more dangerous impacts.
After feeling a bunch of movements early on in the project’s development, Dawn filed a complaint with the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC). They sent out an inspector who checked the driller’s records and told her that there was nothing that the company was doing that would cause her house to move. “They basically blew off my complaint,” she said.
The inspector didn’t provide much comfort. An explosion killed two people in the nearby community of Firestone, highlighting the dangers of living close to oil and gas infrastructure. In April, Dawn felt a particularly house-jolting boom. “All my lights flickered and I honestly thought one of the limbs from one of my 120 year cottonwoods had fallen on the house,” she said. “I went outside with a flashlight and I saw nothing.”
After that second big boom, she filed another complaint with the COGCC. “They said it was probably just noise,” Dawn remembered. “I said it was not noise and that they should be taking complaints like mine more seriously—especially after what happened in Firestone.”
Months later, she still hadn’t heard back from the COGCC about her second complaint.
As residential areas expand and operations saturate the best performing “sweet spots” in less populated areas, more neighborhoods are going to be turned into oilfields. It’s critical for people facing oil and gas development near their homes to organize with their neighbors in order to preserve their quality of life. Getting involved early may be the only way to avoid the worst impacts.
“I’ll never be able to enjoy my property like I once did,” Dawn said. “What happened to my property is something that should never have happened.”