Residents cry foul over gas
Residents want governor to stop second well pad
Some Battlement Mesa residents are calling on Gov. John Hickenlooper to intervene after state regulators approved a second proposed Ursa Resources oil and gas pad in that residential community.
Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission staff OK’d the proposal late last week. Ursa now has state and Garfield County approvals to drill more than 50 wells from two pads in the community of several thousand residents.
The latest approval is for a pad near the community’s municipal water intake on the Colorado River, which has raised additional concerns among some residents. They worry not just about the prospect of drilling there but about Ursa’s hopes of also operating a wastewater injection well there — an idea that likewise concerns the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
Last week’s COGCC action approved the location for such a well, but the agency hasn’t approved the well itself, and Ursa has not yet applied for that well permit.
“We are very well aware that (the health department) does not like the idea of an injection well on that pad due to the proximity of a water intake,” said commission director Matt Lepore.
Such a well also would be subject to a Garfield County approval process.
Don Simpson, an Ursa vice president, said he expects the company to start drilling within Battlement Mesa sometime next year.
The Battlement Concerned Citizens, Grand Valley Citizens Alliance and Western Colorado Congress groups said in a news release that they are asking for Hickenlooper to get involved in the issue.
Dave Devanney of Battlement Concerned Citizens noted in an interview that Hickenlooper recently acknowledged the need for discussions with people wanting more local say over drilling, following the recent failure of two measures addressing their concerns to make the fall ballot. One would have created 2,500-foot minimum setbacks between drilling operations and homes, and a second would have provided for more local control over the industry.
“I think as one of the communities in the state that’s being severely impacted by this issue, we would like to talk to the governor and show him what’s going on in western Colorado in general and Battlement Mesa in particular, so we’re extending him an invitation,” Devanney said.
Hickenlooper’s office couldn’t be reached for comment Monday. Todd Hartman, a spokesman for the state Department of Natural Resources, said he couldn’t speak to the issue of the Battlement Mesa residents’ request, but he added, “the governor is always interested in listening to folks.”
Simpson said Ursa would also be “absolutely happy” to show Hickenlooper its local operations if the opportunity arose.
The gas commission had been scheduled to hold a hearing in October on the second Battlement Mesa pad at Ursa’s request due to the amount of time the agency was taking to decide on it, but that hearing will now be canceled. The two Ursa pads were among the first in the state to be reviewed under new gas commission rules aimed at minimizing impacts of large oil and gas operations proposed in urban areas. But some, such as Devanney, believe those rules fell short of what was needed.
“We’re disappointed. We tried to do what we can, but obviously the deck is stacked against us,” he said.
Simpson said the company is pleased with the approval of the latest pad.
“It was a collaborative process to get us to where we needed to go. It took a little longer than normal … but it’s a state-of-the-art project,” he said. “It’s designed to have as little impact as possible. It’s one of the most regulated and highly scrutinized, definitely, in the state. We’re committed to continuing to engage with the community and make the project the best that it can be.”
The Battlement Mesa pads first underwent a Garfield County review based on a zoning requirement for the unincorporated community, and the county approved them with a host of conditions to minimize impacts and help safeguard the operations. The gas commission added even more conditions during its review under the new rules.
“This permit went through a rigorous local process, then a rigorous state process,” Lepore said.
He said the state process included reviewing and responding to more than 50 public comments that were filed. He also credited Ursa for working to minimize the number of pads it plans to drill from within Battlement Mesa and minimize impacts. Ursa ultimately expects to need five or six pads altogether within the community to reach all the natural gas beneath it.
Devanney said his group is talking with its attorney and seeing what more it can do to protect residents, but is running short of options.
“Everyone knows that there will be impacts” from the drilling, he said. “We’re at that stage of hoping that the impacts are not catastrophic.”
He said he thinks residents now are considering their personal options, including whether they want to continue to live in Battlement Mesa or sell their homes and move.
He said another next step will be for activists to provide residents “with the necessary information and tools to become the policemen of the industry and report problems and impacts, kind of deputizing our posse.”
Simpson said he thinks Ursa’s local operations already are closely watched. Last year it had 155 state inspections on its pads, and this year that number is on pace to double, he said.
Lepore said while he appreciates the idea of local citizens being engaged and making use of the state complaint process where needed, he would take issue with any suggestion that his agency isn’t doing its job from a watchdog perspective. Its inspection and enforcement numbers have been steadily on the rise, he said.
Devanney said inspectors can’t be there around-the-clock like residents will be.
“We’re the people that are going to be living with the impacts and we’re going to be the first responders — that’s just the reality,” he said.