After a 7-hour meeting that lasted until 1:00 the next morning, the Garfield County planning commissioners voted 6 to 1 to approve all three Ursa applications, though they did add up to 50 conditions. The applications, along with planning commission recommendations, will advance to the BOCC. No hearing date has been set and rumor has it that meeting will be held in Battlement Mesa.
Click here for audio replay of the meeting.
… While several of the planning commissioners commented on the undesirable situation of having oil and gas operations in such close proximity to residences in the PUD, Ursa’s willingness to work with the county on mitigation measures typically not required from an operator was enough to garner a vote of approval.
All three applications were approved by a vote of 6-1.
The decision came after nearly seven hours after the meeting started, and followed 90 minutes of public testimony and presentations from county staff and Ursa representatives. Those two parties addressed concerns from a Planning Commission hearing Sept. 23. Additional information was requested regarding noise, emissions and odor control, spill prevention, light mitigation and several other items.
Echoing remarks from the previous meeting, Fred Jarman, Garfield County community development director, noted that the county does not have specific noise regulations, but relies on standards from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.
Shortly after the September meeting, Ursa contracted with Behrens and Associates for a noise study on the two proposed pads. Among the recommendations in the study were erecting 40-foot sound walls surrounding both pads, as well as 20-foot walls surrounding fracking pump trucks inside pad during completions — the phase commonly referred to as fracking. According to the study, if the mitigation measures are implemented, the noise level at 350 feet from both pads would be well below COGCC standards.
Essentially, the state sets a bar, the county requested Ursa raise that bar and the study shows Ursa is going beyond the requests, Jarman said.
The study, however drew criticism from several members of the public, which led alternate commissioner Matt Langhorst to ask about the study and concerns over sound affecting homes located above one of the proposed wells.
Matt Honeycutt, operations superintendent with Ursa, clarified that the numbers presented were without mitigation and the study provides several other mitigation options. Specifically, he said one option could involve placing sound walls within the pad closer to the noise source in order to deflect sound away from the homes above.
Beyond noise, another condition of approval reached between county staff and Ursa would call for an on-site air quality monitoring program.
“We really have gone way above and beyond,” Rob Bleil, regulatory and environmental manager for Ursa, said of the overall work on the proposal.
Several planning commissioners made similar remarks before voting on the applications.
Okay, well that’s like saying: “We’re going to build a chemical factory in the middle of your community. We know we’ll be poisoning you with toxic emissions. But don’t worry because we are going way above and beyond what is required of us to get this approved so that makes it all okay. And even though we don’t have to, we will dim the lights, erect ugly sound walls, and monitor emissions just to make you all feel better. Never mind that our efforts will do nothing to address the actual toxins being emitted 24/7.”
As we learned in Silt last week Ursa has a truthiness problem. During two community meetings last year, Ursa neglected to inform stakeholders in the town of Silt about the construction and/or expansion of the Valley Farms L pad, a massive multi-well facility located across the river from Coal Ridge High School. By not telling us about the Valley Farms L pad, they didn’t have to tell us about the 10 wells they planned to drill on site during the coming year. Instead, at the October 21, 2015, community meeting Ursa informed residents: “OBTW, we drilled 10 wells on the Valley Farms L pad.”
Neglecting to mention the Valley Farms L pad didn’t change the fact that drilling those 10 wells less than a mile from Silt had a major impact on our air quality and the health of the local residents. But Ursa cleverly avoided any discussions with stakeholders about mitigating toxic emissions and air quality monitoring – or light and noise pollution. Ursa was not required to inform the town about all of their drilling operations – and they certainly did not. When it comes to the stakeholders, Ursa goes to great lengths to avoid disclosing operational plans that would arouse health and safety concerns within the community.
So let’s be clear about this. The only reason Ursa is going “way above and beyond” with the Battlement Mesa applications is because they are faced with special use permits. Ursa goes “way above and beyond” when the end result furthers their brand and develops their business plans. But when it comes to being a good neighbor they play a shell game in order to skirt a layer of accountability.
And regarding special use permits, at the planning commission meeting Wednesday night, the most significant and crucial discussion took place between Commissioner Greg McKennis and Ursa’s attorney, Jamie Jost. (Click here to listen to their discussion, cue up to hour 4:32:30)
McKennis referred to a letter from Jost and offered examples from the letter that troubled him. But most of all he was bothered by Ursa’s assertion that the county is legally obligated to acknowledge Ursa’s vested right to develop the Battlement Mesa mineral leases, while at the same time agreeing to a “whole list of buffers.” McKennis and Jost sparred back and forth about what the letter did and did not mean.
Then McKennis said this:
“Battlement Mesa Partners, under a prior board many years ago … entered into a specific agreement [with the county to obtain the PUD] specific to this property and indeed surrendered a number of their so-called – I won’t use the word ‘rights’ – but the abilities to do all sorts of things because they willingly came to the county and asked for all sorts of things to the betterment of all of us, hopefully, and in return for that they gave up a number of things. And one of which was that you [Ursa], as the successor, through your lease agreements agreed that one of the conditions to get the ability to do this, is that you would agree to seek and get approval for this special use permit. And that’s, in effect, a covenant that a homeowner might have.
“And so that really, to my mind, shades and tempers a lot of the argument that you have this absolute right to come in and take this. And that’s where I think we need to be very clear here. This is where I have – I’ve heard all this testimony on and on about this absolute right from a number of different parties and that is not the case because you have benefited as a successor …Well, certainly Battlement Mesa Partners has through all the ability to develop this community as an unincorporated entity where we, as taxpayers as a whole, foot the bill for many things down there.
“But you have given away that right. You have given up a right in order to get something back. So you must come in and get this permit. And we have the ability to temper it or deny it. And I think it’s an unfair characterization to say that you have an absolute right to drill this.
“Just as the homeowner needed to do his diligence when he bought his property and could have gone through all the documents to see … what he bought into, there was an obligation on the other side to do the same. And so you all as a successor knew you were buying a permit or a lease subject to this special use process.”
Attorney Jost responded that Ursa recognizes and respects the special use permit process blah, blah, blah … but that the intent of the letter was for Ursa to build a record, to assert their legal right to develop the minerals.
McKennis summed it up this way:
“I think it’s important to understand that Battlement Mesa gave up a lot of stuff to get the subdivision approved many years ago. And there’s been a lot of people move in and this and that and the other thing. And in return for all of those approvals you gave something back, which was NOT a fait accompli to a gas well or an oil well exactly where you want it – or even if you could have it. And that is what they gave up. That’s what it says in the PUD documents. It was a special use permit to be granted by the county under county approvals.”
There you have it. Because of the PUD, Ursa’s mineral rights DO NOT trump property rights.
So the question is: Whose duty is it to protect the homeowners’ property rights?
Read more about the meeting in the Daily Sentinel: GarCo panel weighs Ursa proposal for 53 gas wells