‘Neighborhood drilling’ an oxymoron we don’t need
Recent developments concerning well pads in and around Battlement Mesa have people here shaking their heads over the desire of the Ursa Operating Company to nestle its large scale industrial operations next to residences, the community’s water supply, and its high school. Of even more concern is apparent lack of will by regulators to do anything to deny industry its choice of pad sites.
Last month, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) permitted the D Pad within Battlement Mesa. It was the first test of a new rule that was supposed to “resolve conflicts” between oil and gas operators and residents. This rule was the only constructive product of the governor’s task force and was supposed to provide new protections for neighborhoods and residents from large-scale multi-well drilling that has become the norm of the industry. But rather than mandate greater setbacks for large oil and gas facilities from homes, the new rules only require operators to consider alternative locations farther away from homes and, either justify the need to place a large scale oil-and-gas facility within 1,000 feet of a number of homes, or move the pad “as far as possible” from homes. In this case, Ursa offered no alternative locations. Ursa simply made unsupported statements that “no other locations were available” and the COGCC accepted that as a fine justification to place an industrial complex in the middle of a residential neighborhood. So now, a well pad that will contain 28 wells, 28 separators, eight tanks, and an emission combustor will be within 1,000 feet of an apartment building and single family homes. It will be in operation for three years and be producing from the location for at least 20 years.
As of this writing, another Ursa permit for a well pad in Battlement is pending with the commission. The B pad application, if approved, would not only pose the same resident proximity issues for several of Battlement’s villages, but also allow a pad with 25 wells that is within 400 feet of the Battlement Mesa public drinking water intake in the Colorado River, that in turn serves 30 million people downstream. The location of that pad has been seriously questioned by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE). Adding to CDPHE’s concern, and drawing their strenuous objection, is the transparent intention of Ursa to use one of its well bores there for a toxic waste water injection well.
Based on the first approval, COGCC seems poised to approve the B pad with conditions Ursa feels are acceptable. While approving actions inherently threatening to the community, the COGCC will apparently attach conditions in the form of half-measures that will hopefully minimize the damage. If that is Colorado’s idea of protecting citizens, something is very wrong here.
As if this were not enough to arouse people here and around the state, consider that the same company has announced it wants to place another well pad site only 600 feet from the high school attended by Battlement Mesa youngsters, although the state requires a 1,000 foot setback from schools. This makes it clear that Ursa and other operators in the state intend to push the envelope as far as possible in order to drill absolutely anywhere they wish.
It seems equally obvious that the COGCC considers this up-close and personal version of “responsible energy development” a fulfillment of their regulatory mission to safeguard communities. Instead of passing new rules to prevent neighborhood drilling, the COGCC passed rules that will facilitate it. Instead of protecting the public health and welfare of the citizens of this state, the COGCC has chosen instead to fulfill its other mission of promoting the oil and gas industry by protecting its perfect record of never having turned down a proposed location for a well pad.
Impacted citizens have little recourse. The COGCC will not be required to have a public hearing on this issue because the COGCC only recognizes the industry, the owner of the well location, and the local government as having legal standing to be able to request a hearing.
But, so long as industry reads “as far as possible” to mean “as close as we want” and the COGCC refuses to say no to a site, citizens groups across Colorado like the BCC will continue to pursue every means at our disposal to oppose heavy industry in residential settings; expressing our viewpoints publicly to localities or the state, attending hearings when they occur, criticizing approvals, lobbying elected officials, making legal challenges, and supporting any ballot initiative offering a solution — ideal or otherwise.
We’d just like our homes to be kept out of harm’s way. “Neighborhood drilling” is an oxymoron and large scale industrial facilities don’t belong side by side with our homes and schools. Safe distances are the heart of the matter. Drilling does not need to happen on our doorstep, nor do nearby residents need to be subjected to having their health and happy homes becoming collateral damage.
Doug Saxton is the co-chairman of the Battlement Concerned Citizens.