Garfield panel OKs additional drilling in Battlement Mesa

GLENWOOD SPRINGS — Garfield County’s Planning Commission on Tuesday night approved a second phase of oil and gas development by Ursa Resources in Battlement Mesa, including a well pad within 500 feet of some mobile homes.

The commission approved the drilling of 55 wells from two pads, along with a wastewater injection well, pipelines and a temporary water storage facility in the unincorporated community of several thousand residents.

The vote is a recommendation and the proposal goes next to county commissioners for final consideration at the county level. Ursa’s project also would require approval by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission before going forward.

Ursa already is in the process of drilling more than 50 wells from two pads in a first phase of development in Battlement Mesa. Controversy over its second-phase proposal has centered on the proximity of some homes and inclusion of an injection well. The commission approved that well by a 4-3 vote. Activists fear the injection well could cause earthquakes or contaminate water, while Ursa says it is safe.

“Of course we’re disappointed with the injection well approval but it was a tight vote. We look forward to the battle continuing with the county commissioners,” said Leslie Robinson with the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance.

Said Don Simpson, an Ursa vice president, “We’re just pleased to move on to the next segment of approvals with the county commissioners. We think that our operations on phase one have spoken for themselves and we’ll continue that in phase two, those good operations.”

Planning commissioner Keith Lammey, a Battlement Mesa resident, cited Ursa’s track record to date drilling there in motioning to approve second-phase work.

“They have been as good as we could possibly could expect, I believe, from an overall perspective as far as being good operators in the area. … I think we’re fortunate to have people who I believe really want to do the right thing.”

But planning commissioner Michael Sullivan objected to the project as being incompatible with adjacent property uses, and raised concerns about water and air pollution. He also noted that while the drilling will last a few years, the wells will produce for decades, and the injection well will operate indefinitely.

“Look at the consequences,” he told fellow commissioners. “Consider if you will an act of God in the next 30 years, consider a manufacturing or perhaps a mechanical accident within the next 30 years.”

Ursa had asked for some revisions in the conditions of county approval for the project, in areas such as groundwater testing, detection of air-polluting leaks, and use of sound and visual screening walls, when compared to the first phase of drilling. But the planning commission approvals included the conditions recommended by county staff, something Robinson considered a victory for residents.

“It didn’t make sense to change the rules of the game from phase one to phase two,” she said.

Ursa contends some flexibility is needed when it comes to use of the walls because of the potential for unintentionally reflecting sound in a different direction and affecting other residents.

Battlement Mesa resident Betsy Leonard questioned Ursa’s proposal for what it calls pad A, near the mobile home park. Ursa has obtained waivers from several residents within 500 feet of the pad in an effort to avoid a state hearing process due to the pad being that close to them.

“There is no mitigating a bad location. Pad A is so close to homes, noise may become the most disturbing factor,” Leonard predicted.

Said Simpson, “We’re going to continue to be responsive to any future concerns of the community.”


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