Last week, Ursa filed a motion with the COGCC to delay public hearings on their permit applications to build two well pads and a pipeline system inside the Battlement Mesa PUD. The hearing officer granted Ursa’s motion. The COGCC meeting will be held as scheduled in Glenwood Springs, July 18-20, but Ursa’s applications for drilling in Battlement Mesa will not be on the hearing docket.
Battlement Mesa residents accept hearing delay, raise water supply concerns
Battlement Mesa, CO— Battlement Concerned Citizens and the Grand Valley Citizen’s Alliance are supporting the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission’s hearing officer’s recent decision to postpone a public hearing on Ursa Resources proposal to construct two pads and 53 natural gas wells in Battlement Mesa.
BCC and the GVCA agree the COGCC should have the time necessary to make a sound decision in applying new rules to the project, but are disappointed with Ursa’s action to make it harder for public to participate in the process. They have since requested that the COGCC allow residents to speak on the matter at the July meeting during the regularly scheduled public comment period. The COGCC has not responded as of yet, but BCC and GVCA expect the motion to be granted.
Last month, the organizations representing impacted residents won the right to participate in the hearing, which was requested by Ursa to expedite a decision on the project. Ursa attempted to stop residents from participating in the hearing, but the request was denied and dismissed as “frivolous.”
“Overall we’re happy that the COGCC staff will take whatever time necessary to review the proposal, suggest changes, and make sure Ursa is complying with the all the state rules before making a final decision,” said Dave Devanney, co-chair of BCC.
“Of course moving it to Denver makes it harder for residents to participate. However, we’ve continually asked that the COGCC take the time required to ensure the B and D pads are appropriately sited ‘as far as possible’ from homes and that ‘best available technologies’ are employed to mitigate the impacts to the greatest extent possible as required by COGCC rules. So we can support this action if it leads to better analysis and as long as residents still have a chance to be heard,” Devanney continued.
Battlement Mesa’s water supply has become a key issue in the review process. One of the proposed pads is just upstream of the water intake for the entire Battlement Mesa community and is within the high water/flood line of the Colorado River. The “B” pad proposal includes waste-water storage and a waste injection well at the same location. Ursa has stated it plans to pursue a separate permit for the injection well at a later date.
The Colorado Department of Health and Environment has explicit concerns about the “B” pad location and the threat it poses to the community’s drinking water.
COGCC rules prohibit oil and gas drilling completion, production or storage to be closer than 300 feet from a designated public drinking water source without receiving a variance from the COGCC. Ursa’s proposal was found to be less than 300 feet from the Colorado River and immediately upstream from Battlement Mesa’s water intake.
In a letter to the COGCC dated March 16th, the CDPHE stated that “the first opportunity for protecting drinking water supplies is to protect the source itself” and requested to be a consulting agency on the location. CDPHE also expressed concern with Ursa in “providing substantially incorrect information” and trying to obstruct CDPHE’s review of the pad. CDPHE recommended that Ursa’s request for a variance to drill next Battlement Mesa’s public drinking water supply be denied.
“We’ve raised concerns for our water supply since this pad was first proposed,” said Battlement Mesa resident Betsy Leonard. “It’s one of the main reasons we asked for an alternative site analysis.”
“Ursa cannot completely eliminate the threat to our drinking water supply, so why risk it at all? We hope that Ursa will work with the COGCC and CDPHE to find a more suitable location for the well pad and protect our water,” Leonard concluded.
Residents are skeptical of Ursa’s track record due to recent odor violations that have been documented and resulted in COGCC fines over $20,000.
“Ursa says they are one of the best companies around, but they continually fly in the face of Colorado’s rules,” said Leslie Robinson, chair of the Grand Valley Citizen’s Alliance. “Not only have they been penalized for odor violations and air quality rules, but they have been caught trying to violate rules to protect drinking water quality.”
“And now Ursa is proposing another well pad within 645 feet of the Grand Valley High School, near Parachute, which is opposed by setback rules that require oil and gas facilities to be at least 1,000 feet from schools. How much more ‘rule bending’ are people expected to tolerate?” Robinson concluded.
Although the COGCC has postponed review of the Ursa proposal until its August 29-30 meeting in Denver, the COGCC will hold its July 18-20 meeting at the Glenwood Springs Community Center as scheduled and the public can speak during the public comment period. Devanney added that BCC and the GVCA plan to travel to Denver to participate in the August hearing.