Decision on drilling in Battlement expected today

Map of the two well pads in “Phase 1” of Ursa’s proposal to develop minerals under Battlement Mesa. The closest residence is within 579 feet.

Map of the two well pads in “Phase 1” of Ursa’s proposal to develop minerals under Battlement Mesa. The closest residence is within 579 feet.

The Garfield County Commissioners are expected to vote today on Ursa’s special use permits to drill 53 wells on 2 well pads and construct 2.5 miles of pipeline inside the Battlement Mesa PUD.

Battlement drilling hearing continued to Thursday

Roughly six hours into Wednesday’s meeting, Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said he wanted to “clean up or change” some of the conditions of approval and he did not want to do so “on the fly.” He did not specify which of the more than 70 conditions of approval — recommended by the county’s planning commission — he wanted to discuss, but Jankovsky wanted to leave the public hearing open to allow for additional comments from the public and Ursa.

Commissioner Mike Samson agreed.

“This is a very emotional decision,” he said. “This is perhaps, if not the most, one of the most toughest, strenuous, important decisions we’ll make as a board. I don’t see a big rush as necessary” …

The reason this is such a tough decision for the commissioners is because two of them – John Martin and Mike Samson – are up for re-election in 2016. A vote for drilling in Battlement Mesa is extremely unpopular and will definitely come back to haunt them.

Tom Jankovsky, on the other hand, is not up for re-election and has taken it upon himself to “clean up or change” some of the more than 70 conditions of approval (COAs) which were recommended by the planning commission. Those COAs were forged out of endless days involving long hours of meetings and discussions. No one takes them lightly. Therefore the concern is Jankovsky will take it upon himself to cut out any conditions that don’t favor Ursa.

Public comments were allowed again on Wednesday with no time limit. Video presentations were allowed by Bob Arrington and Dave Devanney. Also Western Colorado Congress community organizer Emily Hornback was allowed to present the FLIR videos I posted yesterday.

A big part of Wednesday’s discussion centered around the question of why Ursa can’t access the gas from outside the PUD.

… Speaking to a question continually asked by residents, Battlement Mesa resident Bob Arrington presented a report concluding that Ursa could reach the natural gas from outside the planned unit development — essentially, the Battlement residential area — with “proven and safe” technology.

His report included diagrams showing wells by WPX, another local operator, that were drilled at angles steeper than the 45 degrees Ursa has said it can not exceed for fear of jeopardizing the integrity of the well.

“It is good, that’s a given,” Arrington said of Ursa’s procedures. “But can they do better? Can they drill from the outside [the PUD]? That’s the question that they didn’t answer.”

Asked for a response by Samson, Matt Honeycutt, operations superintendent with Ursa, explained that he was not familiar with the WPX wells and was unaware of any others in the formation drilled at a steeper angle than 45 degrees.

Every location is different, Honeycutt explained, and Ursa has looked extensively at other locations and options for well pads. If it were possible, technologically and logistically, to access the gas from outside the PUD then Ursa would have done so and avoided additional costs and the need to obtain special use permits to drill — a requirement established when the PUD was formed.

Honeycutt’s remarks spoke to residents’ request that a comprehensive drilling plan be added as a condition of approval.

Ursa has shared its plans for drilling within Battlement Mesa numerous times, Rob Bleil, regulatory and environmental manager for Ursa. Phase one — which includes the 53 wells on two pads and 2.5 miles of pipeline for which Ursa is currently seeking permits for — is the immediate plan. Ultimately, Ursa could have up to five pads in the PUD per a revised surface use agreement. Each one of those pads would require a special use permit from the county in addition to standard permits from state agencies such as the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission …

… Following Wednesday’s meeting, Devanney [Dave Devanney, Battlement Concerned Citizens] said he was not optimistic that he and others would prevail in preventing approval of the applications.

“I think the die was cast and the applications would be approved regardless of the nuisances,” he said.

Sadly Devanney is right. That’s life in the gaspatch. There’s no such thing as a lost cause. We seize any and every opportunity to voice our objections, present the science, and stand up to government and industry. No matter what the outcome, the battle to defend our rights to breathe clean air, drink clean water, and protect our property values never ends.

But this will come down as a political decision for the commissioners. I predict Jankovsky and Samson will vote yes, and Martin will vote no.

More on the why-can’t-Ursa-drill-outside-the-PUD discussion:

Garfield decision expected today on Ursa drilling

“As we have stated throughout this process, you cannot mitigate a bad location. Drilling within the Battlement Mesa (development) is a bad location,” Dave Devanney of the BCC told commissioners.

Tresi Houpt, who previously served as a Garfield commissioner and member of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, called on Ursa to look for other well pad locations outside the community. And Battlement Mesa resident Bob Arrington, a retired engineer, argued that Ursa is wrong in saying it can’t fully access the gas beneath the community through directional drilling from pads around its periphery. Ursa has said that would require having to drill down, out and then down again at angles of more than 45 degrees, which can lead to a host of problems with wells. But Arrington said other companies have successfully drilled at larger angles into the same gas formation around Battlement Mesa.

“I think they do have that technology right now,” Arrington said.

He said all it requires of Ursa is doing things like using the correct drilling mud and larger rigs.

But Matt Honeycutt, Ursa’s operations superintendent, said it’s not a question of such factors, but of things like topography, geology and the depth of the underlying gas reserves. He noted that Ursa already has been drilling for gas beneath Battlement Mesa from surrounding pads.

“But we have reached a limit to what we can reach, and that’s a simple fact,” he said.

Added Robert Bleil, also with Ursa, “We much rather would have gone outside the (development) if there were any way possible” to drill the remaining wells that way.

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