As decision looms, Battlement Mesa residents demand full enforcement of new COGCC rules
Battlement Mesa, CO— Battlement Mesa residents are urging the COGCC to take as much time as it needs to decide on an application that has the potential to negatively impact public health, safety and welfare of 5,000 people in their community. This is in response to a request made by Ursa Resources to demand a decision on its controversial application to drill 53 natural gas wells within Battlement Mesa.
“The COGCC deserves time to consider these applications,” said Doug Saxton, co-chair of the Battlement Concerned Citizens. “This is a precedent-setting proposal that will have impacts on residents’ lives for many years. The decision should be made only after careful consideration and analysis to ensure the new COGCC rules are being followed.”
Not only are the Battlement Mesa applications one of the largest oil and gas developments to ever be proposed in a neighborhood in Colorado, they are also the first to be considered under new rules the COGCC passed in January to regulate “large scale oil and gas facilities” in residential areas.
“These new rules are the only real tool that impacted landowners got out of the Governor’s Oil and Gas Task Force,” said Battlement Mesa resident Betsy Leonard. “We spent almost two years working to win better protections for our community. The new rules didn’t give us half of what we were asking for, but what little was approved needs to be fully enforced. The COGCC needs to prove to impacted residents across the state that these rules will protect them.”
Battlement Mesa residents are specifically concerned with parts of the new rules that address alternative site locations for facilities, maximum mitigation of impacts, and the use of best available technologies. One of the proposed pads is right next to the water intake for the entire community and includes a wastewater injection well.
“We can’t believe that Ursa would be allowed to threaten our water supply in such a manner,” said Bill Nelson, a homeowner who lives just over 846 linear feet away from the pad and 200 feet above the pad in question and whose deck overlooks the development.
“Even the Colorado Department of Health and the Environment has stated that placing an injection well there is a bad idea. The COGCC needs to consider a different location, and if none can be found, all the best available technologies should be used. If that takes a little extra time, so be it,” Nelson concluded.
However, Battlement Mesa residents are skeptical that the negative impacts of drilling and fracking in a neighborhood can ever be adequately mitigated. Battlement Mesa residents have been dealing with ongoing noise and odor issues since Ursa started drilling outside the boundaries of the community last year. Recently, Ursa was found in violation by the COGCC for strong odors that impacted many subdivisions last December. They have been fined $36,000 after a 20% “inducement” discount.
The proposed injection well has not been permitted by Garfield County, as it was not included in the special use permits that the Board of County Commissioners approved late last year. However, Ursa did include it in their COGCC applications, which they submitted to the state while Garfield County was still deliberating the local special use permits. The injection well has become a flash point of concern for residents and CDPHE submitted a letter to the COGCC in February specifically citing concerns over the proximity of both the pad and the injection well to the water intake.
The applications were open for comment through February 16, and the COGCC received a record-setting number of comments on the proposal, the majority asking for the COGCC to move the pads out of the residential area. Under the new rules, the COGCC had 90 days to make a decision after the permit was deemed complete on January 6. Ursa filed for a hearing on April 7, three days after the 90-day deadline, requesting a hearing before the COGCC in June.
“Battlement Mesa is the first test case under these new rules. What happens here should be of concern to all Colorado communities facing large scale oil and gas development in their neighborhood,” Saxton concluded. “Battlement Mesa is at the heart of the whole statewide debate on this issue and deserves the extra time and attention.”
Some Battlement Mesa residents are concerned that Ursa Resources is attempting to pressure state regulators into a hasty review of plans to drill within the community, while the company asserts it is merely seeking to prevent its proposals from languishing.
In an unusual move, Ursa in early April requested a hearing before the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission regarding its applications to construct two pads totaling as many as 53 wells within the Battlement Mesa Planned Unit Development.
The request came a little more than 90 days after COGCC had deemed the applications complete in early January. Since the initial request, Ursa — which, in an unrelated matter, was recently assessed a $36,000 penalty over failure to control odors near Battlement Mesa — has asked for a continuation on the hearing until July …