By Emily Hornback, WCC Community Organizer
Residents of Battlement Mesa spoke before the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission on Tuesday, decrying the recent approval of 28 natural gas wells inside their community while calling on the Commission to take a harder look at another pending application to drill an additional 25 wells next to the Colorado River. Of specific concern is a proposal to place a toxic waste water injection well 400 feet from the water intake on the river which provides the drinking water supply for the entire community.
Larry Forman, who lives on a rise just above the proposed “B” pad detailed concerns about the threats to the community’s water. “Any toxins brought by contaminated air and river water will sit in the water storage pond … standard water treatment filters will not remove benzene.” He called on the COGCC to deny the application and the injection well.
Bill and Eleanor Nelson, who also live above the proposed “B” pad, pointed out that Ursa has not provided an alternative site location analysis, which is required by the COGCC rules. “We respectfully call on the COGCC to find an appropriate alternative location for this pad.”
Karen Knupp, an impacted Battlement Mesa who lives approximately 700 feet from the recently approved D pad shared how she is experiencing continuous odor issues in her home from existing gas drilling operations. “We have had odor issues in our house 30 times … only one time has Ursa recognized the problem.” She detailed a series of events where she had to leave her house to avoid the odors and the associated headaches and nausea. “We are totally for the oil and gas but we don’t believe it belongs in our community.”
Battlement Concerned Citizens and the Grand Valley Citizens’ Alliance, the two Garfield County organizations representing concerned residents, did not officially speak during the public comment period as they are bound by COGCC procedure to not speak on a topic on which they are official parties. Both organizations have been granted “intervenor” status on a pending hearing addressing the pad proposals that is scheduled for late August.
However, they made their position clear during a press conference held after the public comment period, expressing disapproval over the “D” pad approval and the failure of new rules governing drilling in residential areas.
“Apparently, inherently bad locations will not be treated as such when it comes to permitting (locations),” said Doug Saxton, co-chair of Battlement Concerned Citizens. “Many communities around the state are now surrounded by large scale facilities that could have dozens of wells on them. They should consider themselves under siege.”
“Until the COGCC says no to bad sites for well pads next to homes, schools, apparent buildings, and infrastructure, operators will be able to dismiss impacts to people and communities,” Saxton concluded. D pad is the first “large urban mitigation area” pad to be approved under the new COGCC rules passed early this year.
Betsy Leonard, a resident of Battlement Mesa, specifically challenged Ursa’s track record as a company, siting spills and air quality violations that have been occurring in the community over the past few years as Ursa developed pads outside the community. She is concerned about what this track record means for the pad by the water intake. “B pad is within 400 feet of the water intake for Battlement Mesa’s water supply … how is that in compliance with state rules?”
Sandra Getter, retired school teacher, spoke about her concerns regarding a new proposal from Ursa to drill within 750 feet of the Grand Valley High School. “I have spoken with parents. One concern is about safety because high school students are new drivers, I am concerned about traffic accidents,” she stated.
Leslie Robinson, chair of the Grand Valley Citizens’ Alliance, concluded the event by reasserting the organizations’ commitment to reforming state regulations to prevent future construction of oil and gas industrial sites next to homes.
“Together with other like-minded citizens groups on the Front Range, we are striving to change current state oil and gas regulations to truly protect the health and well-being of people living with residential drilling. Whether that is at the ballot box, the state legislature, or the courts, we will not give up until resident protections are balanced with oil and gas development,” she concluded.