The Ursa community meeting at Battlement Mesa/Parachute this week was decidedly more contentious than the Silt meeting. On Wednesday night, residents voiced their objections and offered recommendations in person and via written statement regarding the operator’s plans to drill inside the community’s PUD.
Ursa plans to construct two well pads within the PUD boundaries. The community’s developer, Battlement Mesa Company has a surface use agreement with the company that outlines 10 possible drilling locations.
In an email to FTS, Battlement Mesa Concerned Citizens (BCC) Co-chair Dave Devanney wrote:
There were about a hundred people at the meeting to hear Ursa tell what they were going to do inside the PUD boundary starting next year (2105). The poor quality of the projected graphics and the reluctance to use the available sound system did hamper the communications. But the refreshments were great!
However, the message was that Ursa is applying for a county special use permit to initially put two well-pads (B & D) inside the PUD, one of which is near the Colorado River where the community drinking water supply intake is located. Not presented were their intentions for a second and third phase of drilling that includes two well-pads adjacent to the award-winning golf course that is the centerpiece of a beautiful community.
Residents expressed their disappointment that Ursa will not access the NG from outside the PUD using horizontal drilling methods, and anger that they will be seeing drilling rigs and ugly sound walls from their homes in place of the surrounding landscape, and frustration that they must contend with a heavy industrial operation in their community and the probable negative impact on property values.
When asked how long they will be drilling in our community, Ursa did not have an answer.
They did however, promise to have more meetings.
A brief history
Unincorporated Battlement Mesa is technically a PUD (planned unit development). In the early 1980s, Exxon developed the village to build worker housing in preparation for the oil shale boom. After the boom went bust in May 1982, Exxon switched gears and worked with a developer to market Battlement Mesa as a state-of-the-art retirement community to the company’s own retirees. Their retirement community marketing scheme was so successful that by the mid 1990’s Battlement Mesa was listed as #3 on the Top 20 of America’s Best retirement communities. The community slogan was the “Colorado Dream.” In 2010, Battlement Mesa’s population was estimated at 4,471.
But the “Colorado Dream” glossed over a potential nightmare for homeowners. Known today as ExxonMobil, the company has always held the mineral rights attached to the 3200-acre PUD, and eventually leased the drilling rights to Antero Resources. In 2009, Antero announced plans to drill up to 200 wells within the PUD boundaries. Residents were understandably shocked and the Battlement Mesa Concerned Citizens group was formed. The group gathered over 400 signatures on a petition that called for the postponement of Antero’s drilling plan until a health impact study could be completed.
In February 2010, the Garfield County Commissioners (John Martin, Trési Houpt, Mike Samson) approved funding for two studies: a health impact assessment (HIA), and a long-term, in-depth community health study. The now infamous Battlement Mesa HIA was conducted by the Colorado School of Public Health. Upon completion of the first draft of the first study in 2011, the researchers identified a list of potential human health impacts and offered more than 70 recommendations to minimize those impacts. In response, the Garfield County Commissioners (John Martin, Tom Jankovsky, Mike Samson) suddenly terminated the study in May 2011. The study remains incomplete to this day.
Antero never drilled within the PUD and eventually sold their Piceance Basin natural gas assets to Ursa in 2012.
That was then, this is now
Fast forward to the Wednesday night meeting where BCC Director Doug Saxton and Co-chair Dave Devanney presented Ursa with this written statement: Comments from BCC to Ursa at Battlement Mesa Meeting – October 1, 2014
The BCC statement spells out 5 specific requests:
- Submit one single comprehensive plan to Garfield County covering the whole Battlement Mesa project, as companies operating in other counties are now required to prepare.
- Defer development inside the PUD until the Governor’s special commission now deliberating makes recommendations about new required setbacks, and then voluntarily follow them.
- Relocate these golf course pads in your development plan.
- Please relocate this well pad that is close to the Colorado River and our water supply.
- And finally we ask that Ursa employ the latest and best available technology in order for us to co-exist with heavy industry here.
These highlights from the article in today’s Daily Sentinel, Battlement drilling plan drawing flak, include Ursa’s responses to the citizens’ requests and reveal the county’s commitment to remaining on the sidelines in the dispute this time around.
… Don Simpson, Ursa’s vice president for business development, said there will be plenty of opportunities for people to air their views on the company’s plans.
“We’ll have lots of public meetings on that before it’s over,” he said.
Ursa is planning more community meetings on its plans, but it also will be subject to the unusual process of a special-use permit review by Garfield County.
That’s because the original county approval for the development requires such a permit for any drilling there …
… Fred Jarman, the county’s community director, said germane recommendations from that study [Battlement Mesa HIA] will be considered during the review process, keeping in mind changes in technology and regulations that have taken place since it was done.
“Ursa has committed to reviewing those and we as a county will look at those too,” he said …
What exactly is he saying? Is Jarman claiming the county will now revisit the draft of the incomplete Battlement Mesa HIA? And Ursa, too?
Or are they bluffing?
Just as Antero drilled outside the PUD boundary so has Ursa thus far.
… Ursa likewise has been drilling just outside the development boundary, but the company has said it believes in certain cases well pads within Battlement Mesa would have fewer impacts than ones located outside.
Simpson said one of the locations it is proposing is below a bluff and will hardly be visible to residents.
The second would be more visible. The company plans to continue its use of sound walls as warranted to reduce the offsite impacts of noise associated with drilling and hydraulically fracturing wells …
… Simpson said the citizens group asks for relocating pads but “does not offer any alternative pad sites.”
The sites in the surface use agreement “have been a matter of public record for a number of years and were debated and chosen as the best possible locations,” he said …
What has also been a matter of public record since 2009, is BCC’s unwavering opposition to drilling within the PUD boundaries.
… While Ursa is only proposing two locations now, Battlement Concerned Citizens is calling on it to submit a comprehensive proposal for all planned drilling there to the county.
Jarman said the county can’t force any kind of developer to submit an entire project all at once if it prefers to proceed in phases.
“We review what is proposed to us,” he said.
He said a phased approach also should have less impact than if drilling occurred throughout the development …
… Dave Devanney, co-chair of the citizens group, said the group has been in continuing discussions with Ursa, so its proposal comes as little surprise. But others who attended Ursa’s meeting Wednesday were more caught off-guard by its plans.
Said Devanney, “There was some anger, there were some folks that had not been involved with this as much as others who said, ‘How can you do this, how can you drill inside our community?’”
Simpson said Ursa has drilled wells from a pad just outside the community “really without any problem” in terms of impacts to residents.
Said Devanney, “If you don’t live there, it’s easy to say that.”
He said there were concerns about noise, lights and odors, “and people complained, but there’s nothing that can be done once they start” drilling.