The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment says it can't support granting Ursa Resources a variance to drill within 500 feet of homes in Battlement Mesa.

The health department previously made recommendations in August on measures Ursa could take to reduce air pollution impacts to nearby residents from the proposed pad. It also noted then that the proposed wastewater injection well at the pad would reduce health and safety concerns that would arise for Battlement Mesa if Ursa had to otherwise truck away waste fluids from that and other pads.

However, the health department didn't address the drilling setback issue at that time because Ursa had obtained waivers from all homeowners within 500 feet of the pad and wasn't seeking a variance then. Health department oil and gas liaison Kent Kuster wrote to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission last week that his agency can't endorse the variance Ursa is seeking now that one waiver has been rescinded.

"Currently, the Department has no scientific evidence to support allowing oil and gas operations to be closer than 500 feet to residents regardless of the potential for increased trucking within (Battlement Mesa) and the associated impacts to residents," Kuster wrote.

Last February, the health department concluded in a report that the risks of harmful health effects are low for people living 500 feet or more from oil and gas operations.

Gas commission rules require that a company unable to get waivers from all home owners within 500 feet of a proposed pad in an urban area can't drill there without a variance from the agency. Ursa is now seeking a variance after Nobia and Albert Story rescinded their waiver. Nobia Story says when she signed the waiver she thought it pertained to another pad Ursa already was building, and she thinks the location it is proposing is too close to homes. The Storys rent their home to a family with children.

Ursa's proposed pad is near the Tamarisk Village mobile home park in Battlement Mesa. It would be within 340 feet of one home, 500 feet of seven homes and 1,000 feet of 51 homes.

Dave Devanney, chairman of Battlement Concerned Citizens, told the oil and gas commission during its meeting in Denver on Monday that when his group visited the neighborhood to make sure people understood what Ursa was proposing, "everyone we talked with was concerned about what was going to be happening."

He asked that oil and gas commission staff do an alternative location analysis to determine if there would be better locations for the pad. Don Simpson, an Ursa vice president, has said the proposed pad location is better than others the company has evaluated in that part of Battlement Mesa.

Simpson said Monday that the health department's letter was based on some misinformation and it should have consulted with Ursa before making its recommendations.

"There's other facts that will come to light hopefully before the COGCC does rule on it," he said.

Devanney asked the commission that if its staff members are prepared to waive the setback rule for Ursa, the commission hold a hearing on the variance request.

"This proposal would set a precedent for communities all across Colorado" if approved, he said.

One oil and gas commissioner, Howard Boigon, asked commission director Matt Lepore who has standing to appeal to the commission if Lepore grants the variance request. Lepore said he would need to check with state attorneys on that question.

"I would be interested in knowing what the process is because it could be something that the full commission would want to hear," Boigon said.

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