GarCo won’t seek hearing on Battlement well
Garfield County commissioners Monday declined a request by citizen groups to demand a state hearing on the recent approval of an oil and gas wastewater injection well surface location in the residential community of Battlement Mesa.
Commissioners turned down the request by Battlement Concerned Citizens and the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance because any application by Ursa Resources to drill the well would be subject to a county review process that would involve multiple public hearings.
“We hold the key to allow that to go forward or not,” Garfield Commissioner John Martin said.
The citizen groups wanted the county to seek a hearing before the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission on the matter. Commission rules don’t allow the groups to request that hearing themselves.
Commission staff recently have issued approvals for Ursa to drill more than 50 oil and gas wells from two pads in Battlement Mesa, an unincorporated community of several thousand people. One of the pads is near the Colorado River and the municipal water intake for Battlement Mesa, and the Commission approved surface facilities for a possible injection well there.
Ursa isn’t currently seeking approval for the well itself, but sought the surface approval because it may apply for the well permit later.
Both the citizen groups and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment have questioned putting an injection well and associated wastewater storage tanks close to the water intake and residential neighborhoods.
“You couldn’t ask for a worse location,” Matt Sura, an attorney representing the groups, told Garfield commissioners.
The groups say the chance to address surface impacts was ahead of the Commission pad approval, and not during the well permitting stage, when down-well considerations such as the volume of fluids a geological formation can absorb will be considered.
But for Ursa to pursue the well, it also would need to pursue a change by the county in Battlement Mesa’s zoning, and then a county permit under the new zoning. That would require multiple hearings before the county planning commission and county commissioners, and opportunities for public comment.
Commission director Matt Lepore told county commissioners the state wouldn’t approve an injection well without county approval. The state doesn’t hold regulatory primacy over injection wells because there are no mineral rights at issue.
Battlement Concerned Citizens representative Doug Saxton called for a state hearing as a way of seeking to resolve, ahead of any county proceedings, the differences between two state agencies on the appropriateness of the pad as an injection well site. Ursa representative Robert Bleil argued that the company has taken steps such as committing to add more spill containment to ease Health Department concerns.
“I think we’re premature here to start talking about the injection well when nothing’s been submitted (by Ursa) at this time,” he said.
Garfield Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said he shared some of the Health Department’s concerns about the possible injection well location, but he feels there would be plenty of opportunity for public participation should Ursa pursue drilling the well.