Ursa seeks more wells near town
State health agency, county planning opposed to wastewater injection idea
Ursa Resources has begun the process for seeking approvals to drill 74 oil and gas wells from three pads in a second phase of drilling in the community of Battlement Mesa, while also hitting new resistance to its hopes of operating a wastewater injection well from a previously approved pad near the Colorado River.
Garfield County commissioners on Monday agreed to invoke its rights under new state rules to consult with Ursa about locations and measures to reduce impacts associated with the three additional pads.
Ursa previously received approval to drill more than 50 wells from two pads in the unincorporated community of several thousand people, but hasn’t yet begun drilling. It’s also hoping to operate the injection well on one of those two pads. But the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, and now Garfield County’s planning staff, have recommended against approval of a zoning change proposal by Battlement Mesa’s developer to allow injection wells on 37 acres, which would take in an approved Ursa pad and a proposed one.
A county planning staff document says Battlement Mesa’s public water intake from the Colorado is 600 feet west of the area proposed for rezoning.
Injection wells also would require approval by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. A CDPHE official recently reiterated to the county its past recommendation against approving an injection well from the approved Ursa pad near the intake because of the threat the well and associated storage tanks would pose to it.
Garfield County’s planning staff pointed to the CDPHE’s concern in urging the county planning commission to recommend to Garfield commissioners that they deny the injection well zoning.
“The proposal will affect in a substantially adverse manner the public interest by creating a risk to the Battlement Mesa Metro District public water supply intake,” the planning staff said in their recommendation.
The planning commission will consider the zoning change Wednesday night.
In a letter to the county, the metro district referenced the CDPHE recommendation that alternative locations for an injection well be analyzed, and said it hadn’t had the chance to conduct an expert evaluation of the potential impacts of an injection well close to the intake.
The county’s oil and gas liaison, Kirby Wynn, recommended that the planning commission give strong consideration to health department comments, and Garfield County Environmental Health also pointed to the potential risks to the water supply and potential benefits of other sites farther away.
Dave Devanney, with Battlement Concerned Citizens, appreciates the position taken by the county planning staff and others. While activists in the community oppose oil and gas development in Battlement Mesa more generally, Devanney said that the idea of pumping wastewater underground near the river and intake “is kind of a line in the sand that they just can’t tolerate.”
“There’s a lot of sentiment in opposition to that and I think that we are pleased to see that the county planning staff agree with us on that issue,” he said.
Ursa has contended the contemplated location is an out-of-the-way one, there aren’t many good alternative locations, it would eliminate truck traffic that otherwise would be needed to haul away wastewater, and it can be operated safely there.
Meanwhile, Ursa’s phase-two drilling proposal in Battlement Mesa is about to undergo multiple levels of review. The county exercised its consultation right under new state rules governing large oil and gas operations in urban areas or near high-occupancy buildings like schools.
Garfield County last year became the first government in the state to request consultation when Ursa proposed a well pad site near Grand Valley High School, which serves the Parachute and Battlement Mesa area. Ursa ultimately tabled that proposal, and said the new state rules worked as designed by resulting in stakeholder communications and feedback that helped lead it to hold off on the proposal.
Ursa’s three additional Battlement Mesa pads also will undergo a county zoning review process because the development approval creating Battlement Mesa required that oil and gas activities obtain a special-use permit. The county plans to proceed with that review process at the same time it engages in the consultation with Ursa and Battlement Mesa’s developer.
County staff recommended to commissioners Monday that it proceed with consultation, saying the two processes wouldn’t be entirely redundant and consultation would allow for more engagement with the gas commission, Ursa and Battlement Mesa’s developer on siting and other issues.
“I would say any process that would allow more public input we would be in favor of,” Leslie Robinson of the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance told commissioners.
She said she’s not sure consultation will actually provide for that.
“But that’s what we’re aiming for,” she said.
Devanney told commissioners he hopes the review will allow for residents to give authorities a better picture of what it’s like to live in a residential area that is evolving into an industrial zone. He said they are already starting to see those impacts just from the beginning stages of phase one of Ursa’s Battlement Mesa project.
In an interview, he said he was referring to the incident involving Summit Midstream’s construction of pipelines to serve Ursa’s first two pads. Summit hit an unexpected underground spring during horizontal boring for the project. It had to truck large volumes of resulting water through the residential community around-the-clock, keeping some residents awake, before getting a state permit to route the water into a drainage and the Colorado River.
“Once these things happen unanticipated events occur, and nobody planned on it, everybody hoped it wouldn’t happen, but it happened and the residents have to deal with the consequences,” Devanney said. “An industry does their best to minimize it, but their best is still impacting people that didn’t have a choice.”
Ursa’s proposed new pads and wells also will be subject to review by the gas commission.
Ursa pointed out in a notice to the county that its five-pad plan for Battlement Mesa is down from 10 pads that Antero Resources had planned there before selling its local assets to Ursa, and from 14 pads when the Battlement Mesa development initially was approved. Ursa said that in planning for each of the three pads, it considered factors such as the ability to reach all downhole locations from one pad versus multiple ones. It also described why alternative locations it considered for the pads wouldn’t work.
One of the three pads would be within 1,000 feet of 53 building units. Another would be within 1,000 feet of Grace Bible Church and an associated day care center.
Devanney credited Ursa for moving one of the pads farther from homes than it originally had planned.
“That’s an improvement. … It will still be an impact on the community, but it likely won’t be as bad as it could have been,” he said.