Concerns renewed about Ursa well

A state health agency is reiterating previously stated opposition to a proposal to locate an oil and gas wastewater injection well near Battlement Mesa’s community water intake on the Colorado River.

The action by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment comes as a surprise to energy developer Ursa Resources, which thought it had previously addressed the agency’s concerns, and is an unexpected and welcome development for opponents of the proposed well.

“It’s great that they’re supporting us on this issue,” said Leslie Robinson of the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance.

The development also comes as a pipeline company has been dealing with a large and unexpected flow of groundwater encountered as it bored a hole to install a line to serve Ursa’s Battlement Mesa drilling project. The issue, which arose last week, forced Summit Midstream Partners to increase truck traffic in the community and work 24 hours a day as it hauled off water flowing at a rate of as much as 294,000 gallons a day.

Ursa has state and Garfield County approvals to drill more than 50 wells from two pads in the community of several thousand people. But the county didn’t approve the proposed injection well on the pad by the river because injection wells aren’t specifically allowed in the development’s zoning, and Ursa withdrew its state application for that well.

Now Battlement Mesa Partners, the developer of the unincorporated community, is asking the county to change the zoning to allow injection wells where Ursa wants to place its well. Ursa also would need approval from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to operate the well.

The health department last February had opposed the well’s proposed location. Kent Kuster, an environmental specialist for the agency, wrote then to the oil and gas commission that the proximity of the water intake to the location creates “an unnecessary long-term risk for a spill or release to potentially impact the public water supply. This risk will persist for many years, and will continue as additional well sites are developed in Battlement Mesa area.”

Don Simpson, an Ursa vice president, had believed that subsequent site visits and conversations with health department had persuaded the agency that mitigation measures planned by Ursa were adequately protective.

“But apparently this letter says differently,” he said.

Simpson was referring to a Jan. 12 letter from Kuster to a Garfield County planner saying the health department’s recommendation against the proposed injection well hasn’t changed, Ursa hasn’t adequately demonstrated why the location must be used for an injection well, and the county should require that Ursa provide an analysis of possible alternative locations.

Simpson said Ursa will do that.

But he still considers the proposed location a good one and believes it has the right protective measures planned.

Robinson and activists in Battlement Mesa want to talk to Ursa about possible locations not next to a water source.

“If it’s contaminated it could affect up to 5,000 people,” she said.

Meanwhile, Simpson said Summit Midstream has the groundwater leak under control.

Said Robinson, “Our concern is how many other groundwater sources are streaming through Battlement Mesa that could be affected” by pipeline work related to the planned drilling.


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