Activists challenge Ursa plan over proximity to homes
Groups opposed to a proposed second phase of oil and gas development by Ursa Resources in Battlement Mesa say a Garfield County review process shouldn’t go forward due to an alleged failure to comply with notification and waiver requirements involving residents of a nearby mobile home park.
The county Planning Commission tonight is scheduled to begin considering Ursa’s proposal to drill 55 wells on additional well pads and operate a wastewater injection well within the Battlement Mesa development near Parachute.
Battlement Concerned Citizens and the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance say a pad with 24 gas wells and the injection well would be less than 500 feet from a number of homes — far too close for comfort.
“This could be the most unsafe drilling proposal in the state,” Leslie Robinson, president of Grand Valley Citizens Alliance, said in a news release Tuesday.
The groups say Ursa has failed to meet its requirement under state rules to obtain waivers from residents within 500 feet of the proposed pad, and failed to notify mobile home owners of the county review process, so tonight’s hearing should be postponed.
Don Simpson, an Ursa vice president, called the groups’ criticisms “a pile of garbage.” He said the company has obtained the required waivers under the state process and drilling can occur safely at the proposed location.
“To call it the most unsafe proposal in the state — that’s ridiculous,” he said.
Ursa already is in the middle of a first phase involving drilling more than 50 wells from two pads in Battlement Mesa, which is home to several thousand people. Under the original county approvals for Battlement Mesa, drilling there is subject to a county review process along with the standard review by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.
State rules that took effect in 2013 require companies drilling in urban areas to locate wells and production facilities at least 500 feet from homes, unless they get waivers from owners of building units closer than that or seek a variance from the state.
Matt Sura, an attorney for the two activist groups, said one of Ursa’s proposed sites is near the Tamarisk Village mobile home park, and would be as close as 340 feet from some residents.
He says seven mobile homes are within 500 feet of the proposed pad, and Ursa has obtained waivers from just five of them.
He said Garfield County’s zoning code requires a proposal to be in compliance with all laws and regulations, so it should deny Ursa’s application over the failure to gain the necessary state waivers.
Said Simpson, “At the time of the application that we made we got waivers from all the trailers that were there, all the people living there,” he said. “… We went for the owners of the lots and the people renting there, so we knocked on every trailer door there and got waivers.”
Simpson believes the company complied with the state requirement.
“That said, there are people who move in and out of these trailers,” he said.
Sura questions whether Ursa provided adequate information about its proposal in its waiver request, and whether the waivers are legally valid. He said the waiver language references the fact that Ursa had a surface use agreement in place for the pad that predates the setback requirements and “expressly defines” where it can operate, which suggests to residents that the waiver is a mere formality they are required to sign, when in fact the setback requirements still apply.
Sura also questions the county’s position that mobile home owners weren’t required to be notified of the county review process on the Ursa proposal because they aren’t adjacent property owners. He argues that their leases giving them a right to occupy their lots make them adjacent property owners for purpose of the notification requirement.
“Even if that weren’t the case, certainly decency and fairness would require (Ursa) to contact the people who are going to be directly affected by this proposal” under the county process, he said.
County spokesperson Renelle Lott said the issue of adequacy of public notice will be considered by the planning commission at tonight’s meeting.
Simpson said he couldn’t say whether the mobile home residents should have been notified under the county process, “but regardless, we notified everybody (under the state process) and we got waivers. It really doesn’t matter.”
Activists including Dave Devanney, chair of Battlement Concerned Citizens, said they’ve talked to mobile home park residents who are worried about the project and its potential impacts on their families.
“All of them are concerned and they don’t have a lot of information,” he said.
Sura called it “the worst proposal that I’ve seen in Colorado in the last 20 years.”
“Not only is it closer than the minimum required setback that many would argue is nowhere near far enough, but they also went so far as to not even notify those people who will be living with this oil and gas facility for the next … 20 or 30 years,” he said.
The pad would be cut into a hillside below the mobile homes, and Devanney worries it could create an unstable slope above the pad and a danger for fires to be sparked on the pad and race up the hill.
Simpson said the pad is “all engineered to be safe.”
“That’s why we have the process through the county and the state to determine that so that they feel comfortable,” he said.
He said there’s no better location option for the pad, and it’s in an out-of-the-way place, actually further distant from the homes than measured horizontally due to its location down the hill.
“I think what we’ve done is exactly what the regs” require, he said. “It’s hard to find those people in those trailer homes, and we did.”