State regulators have approved a proposal by Ursa Resources to drill 24 wells and a wastewater injection well a little more than 500 feet from a mobile home park in Battlement Mesa.
Activists blasted the decision by Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission staff, which came just prior to Monday's Colorado Supreme Court decision that they say delivered a blow to communities trying to protect neighborhoods and schools from impacts of oil and gas development. The high court overturned an appeals court ruling that regulators must condition approvals of oil and gas development on ensuring protection of health, safety and environment.
The Ursa proposal is part of a two-pad, second phase of drilling it plans in Battlement Mesa, an unincorporated community of several thousand residents. The company already has finished drilling a two-pad, first phase involving 52 wells.
Garfield County has imposed numerous conditions on both drilling phases in an effort to reduce noise, pollution and other impacts of the project, and Ursa adviser Don Simpson said the state imposed further requirements on the newly approved pad.
"They weren't insurmountable," he said of the conditions. "We usually do our best to do all we can to minimize the impacts."
Officials say air pollutants associated with the first phase of drilling have met health standards according to results of sampling done to date.
Still, some residents have complained about odors, traffic, noise and other impacts of the drilling and hydraulic fracturing of the wells.
"The Supreme Court decision … adds insult to injury for residents dealing with oil and gas development in their communities," Dave Devanney, chairman of Battlement Concerned Citizens, said in a news release. "Approving this project, in addition to the 52 wells already in place, will only increase the health risks to the residents of Battlement Mesa and make it a less desirable place to live. The approval of the … pad makes it clear the regulatory process is not working to protect people and the environment."
Ursa originally had proposed locating facilities on the pad within 340 feet of one home and 500 feet of several homes. That meant it would have needed to pursue a variance from the state because it was unable to get a waiver from the owners of one of the homes. But it later revised the pad layout to push wells to a far edge of the pad and more than 500 from the homes, eliminating the waiver/variance requirement applying to homes closer than 500 feet.
The pad will be cut into a hillside below the homes, about 900 feet from the Colorado River, and in the vicinity of the community's wastewater treatment plant and municipal water plant.
"This is the worst drilling application in the state; it is a huge industrial operation within a thousand feet of dozens of homes and community infrastructure," Devanney said. "The likelihood is too great that an industrial accident could jeopardize the Colorado River (and) Battlement Mesa's municipal water plant as well as damage the nearby homes."
Simpson said he thinks the pad location should be the least impactful of the four Ursa pads in Battlement Mesa because it's hidden below a bluff, in the area of the wastewater plant. He said Ursa decided to put the injection well at the pad, downstream of the municipal water intake supply for Battlement Mesa, following concerns about Ursa's proposal to locate it at another site closer to the intake.
"We made several different revisions to our whole plan so that it would be the least impactful," he said.
Leslie Robinson, chair of the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance, said activists will be asking Gov. Jared Polis and the directors of at the Department of Natural Resources and the oil and gas commission to intervene on the Ursa matter.
Said Robinson, "These two decisions make it clear that the law is just wrong and rigged to support the industry. At this point, it is clear we need an overhaul of the COGCC and the regulatory system of the industry in order to make policy to protect the people."
Simpson said that oil and gas operations can't completely trump health and safety and the environment, or the other way around.
"We have to work together," he said.