GarCo commission OKs zoning change for injection well
A split Garfield County Commission on Monday approved a zoning change needed for Ursa Resources to continue pursuing a controversial wastewater injection well proposal in the residential community of Battlement Mesa.
But while Commissioner Mike Samson was part of the 2-1 vote approving the change, he said he has a lot of questions when it comes to injection wells and will be seeking a better understanding of the proposal from Ursa when it comes back to ask the county for a special-use permit for the well. It will need to get that permit under the new zoning.
“I think the burden of proof is going to be on them quite heavily to convince us that that would be the appropriate thing to do,” Samson said.
Ursa has begun drilling for natural gas in Battlement Mesa, an unincorporated development of several thousand residents near Parachute. Ursa and the community’s developer say the proposed injection well would reduce the need to haul away groundwater produced by wells so it can be disposed of elsewhere. Less hauling would mean fewer truck trips through Battlement Mesa, reducing the traffic impacts to residents.
Ursa currently has county and state approvals for two well pads in Battlement Mesa, and has said that if it gets the injection well pad approval, that could help eliminate the need for another pad by the community’s golf course and cut its overall planned number of pads in Battlement Mesa from five to four.
But some activists and Battlement Mesa residents fear that groundwater and surface water contamination, induced earthquakes and other impacts could result from an injection well, jeopardizing nearby residents.
“Trucking is a temporary hassle. Zones for injection wells are forever,” Leslie Robinson of the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance told commissioners Monday.
Resident Bob Arrington said he thinks a well would be better located just outside the development or in an undeveloped part of it.
“There are options here but they have not been fully explored,” he said.
Commissioner Tom Jankovsky voted against the zoning change. He said he’s been a fairly strong supporter of oil and gas development in the county, and the county’s decision to let Ursa drill in Battlement Mesa reflected the fact that mineral rights are a property right.
“There are not property rights for injection wells,” he said.
He said while he’s relatively comfortable with injection wells, Ursa’s proposed well is something that residents have sought relief from, and that’s a request he feels he can honor.
Commissioner John Martin said he doesn’t like injection wells because he thinks water brought up from underground during oil and gas production should be able to be filtered and put to agricultural and other surface uses, but the industry is only allowed to recycle it for oil and gas uses. If leftover water is not disposed of in injection wells it is sent to evaporation ponds, a form of disposal that raises health concerns, he noted.
Both he and Samson reiterated that the commissioners’ vote Monday doesn’t authorize Ursa’s operation of an injection well, but just lets the company proceed with seeking the permit to do so.
But their vote frustrated some residents, including Betsy Leonard, who said afterward that Martin and particularly Samson showed “no backbone” on the issue.
“They could have ended the entire process by just saying no,” Leonard said.
Resident Carol Fallon said she thinks the injection well is just designed to save Ursa money by avoiding truck hauling costs.
“I’m disgusted,” she said of the zoning change.
Matt Honeycutt, Ursa’s operating superintendent, said he’s happy Ursa will get the chance to move forward and show why it believes its plan is a good one. He said he expects the company will apply for the special-use permit within the next month or so.
He also responded to an argument from some residents that Ursa should be recycling the produced water in its operations rather than disposing of it. He said it does use its produced water from wells in its hydraulic fracturing operations, but has to have a place to dispose of the water that wells continue to produce after the fracking is done.
Ursa’s injection well also would require approval by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. It also has yet to receive county or state approval for the pad where the well would be located.