New state rule fails to protect public health, safety and welfare

The blue squares show the location of two well pads within the Battlement Mesa PUD where at least 53 wells will be drilled. The yellow line is the route of the 2.5 mile pipeline. Construction on the well pads is expected to begin in the 2nd quarter of 2017. [Source: Garfield County]

The blue squares show the location of two proposed well pads within the Battlement Mesa PUD where at least 53 wells will be drilled. The yellow line is the route of the proposed 2.5 mile pipeline. The permit application for the D Pad was approved by the COGCC last week without a public hearing. A public hearing for the B Pad is scheduled for the end of August, unless the COGCC approves it in the meantime. [Source: Garfield County]

My apologies to the folks in Battlement Mesa, I was unable to attend the COGCC meeting in Glenwood Springs on Tuesday due to prior commitments. I am undergoing intensive physical therapy to address the effects of nerve damage caused by prolonged exposure to toluene, and other unconventional oil & gas (UOG) drilling chemicals.

In 2014, urine tests showed that my body was contaminated with ethylbenzene, toluene, xylene, and styrene. The accumulation of toxins in my body caused my immune system to fail which made me susceptible to every bacterial infection on the planet. DNA testing in 2015, revealed the presence of 9 different bacterial infections that I am still battling today. Since the drilling stopped near Silt at the end of last year, my immune system has begun to recover. My blood work in May showed that my immune system is functioning at 65%. As I build up my immune system, I must continue to address the effects of the neurological damage caused by the chemical contamination, some of which may be permanent.

Also, 4 health professionals and 2 prominent researchers, Dr. Susan Nagel and Dr. Chris Kassotis, have advised me to never drink the tap water in Silt. We drink only bottled water and have for 6 years.

After 2 years of consultations with health professionals, toxicologists, and researchers, I have accumulated extensive background and knowledge on the impacts of drilling and fracking on human health, which has been passed along to a toxicologist at the CDPHE. But enough about me and my health problems caused by exposure to toxic chemicals from oil & gas drilling.

The COGCC meeting in Glenwood Springs and the residents’ press conference were covered by the Daily Sentinel and the Post Independent so I’ve included excerpts and links to the coverage here.

Before we get into the reports on Tuesday’s festivities, just as a reminder and to keep things in perspective, here is the COGCC mission statement posted on the agency’s home page:

“The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) is charged with fostering the responsible development of Colorado’s oil and gas natural resources in a manner consistent with the protection of public health, safety, and welfare, including the environment and wildlife resources. Our agency seeks to serve, solicit participation from, and maintain working relationships with all those having an interest in Colorado’s oil and gas natural resources.”

On Tuesday, the people spoke and they told the COGCC that the first test of the new rule was an “utter failure.”

‘Utter failure’
Regulator ruling riles Battlement residents
Commission OKs drilling within community

GLENWOOD SPRINGS — Battlement Mesa residents on Tuesday criticized state oil and gas regulators for their approval of a drilling pad within the community and said it represents a failure of a new rule designed to address proposed drilling in residential areas.

“This is very emotional for me,” Karen Knupp told the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission during a meeting it held in Glenwood Springs. “You all have just agreed to let Ursa put a pad 720 feet from my house.”

The COGCC last week approved Ursa Resources’ proposal to drill within the community of several thousand people. It was the first project to be reviewed under a new COGCC rule applying to large drilling projects in urban areas. The rule was based on a key recommendation of a state task force that sought to address conflicts between oil and gas operations and communities. The rule provides for a local consultation process aimed at ensuring pads are located as far as possible from homes and mitigating impacts from operations.

COGCC approved an Ursa proposal to drill 28 wells from a pad in Battlement Mesa. It is considering a second Ursa pad proposal in the community.

In addition, Garfield County has invoked its right to the consultation process in connection with an Ursa proposal to drill some 750 feet from Grand Valley High School in Parachute. It’s the first government in the state to request consultation under the rule …

… Doug Saxton, with the Battlement Concerned Citizens group, said in a press conference Tuesday that the task force and the new rule look to have been an “utter failure” in terms of dealing with residential drilling issues.

Saxton and other residents argued Tuesday that the real solution is keeping drilling outside of neighborhoods.

“Large-scale industrial facilities are never good neighbors inside a residential community,” he said.

Activists continue to argue that Ursa could reach the gas beneath Battlement Mesa from pads elsewhere through drilling down and out at an angle before vertically entering the gas-bearing formation. Battlement Mesa resident Bob Arrington said WPX Energy has shown its ability to directionally drill wells at angles of more than 60 degrees, a sharper angle than Ursa has said is possible in the area.

In an interview, Don Simpson, an Ursa vice president, said it’s not safe to drill at such an angle, and that WPX stopped doing so for that reason.

Franci Candlin of Battlement Mesa said that through its recent Ursa pad approval, the COGCC “is now saying that residential development is fair game for industrial exploitation.”

The pad will be serviced by a 16-inch-diameter gas pipeline running by a neighborhood, and Candlin said it will be 60 feet from her bedroom.

“I can’t imagine any of you would want to raise your family with oil and gas as a next-door neighbor,” she told the COGCC.

The pad approval preceded by days the COGCC’s approval Tuesday of a $20,625 fine against Ursa for odor and dust violations at three pads in the Battlement Mesa area. The fines stem from complaints by resident Karen Knupp, who said she complained some 30 times from September through December of last year.

“Ursa has labeled us as chronic complainers. Yes, we are chronic complainers with reason. We have the problem at our house,” Knupp told the COGCC.

Ursa has made equipment changes and taken other steps to address the violations. But Knupp said she had to file two more complaints last week, and awoke one night sick to her stomach from the smells coming into her home through her swamp cooler. She said she was forced to leave her house for a third time due to odors.

“How would you like it if you had to leave your house?” she asked COGCC commissioners.

She and her husband have had a business working in the oil field since the 1990s but now are trying to sell their home and leave the state.

“I just don’t get why nothing is done about these odors. We are totally for the oil and gas (industry) but I do not think that it belongs within our community,” Knupp said.

I can corroborate what Karen Knupp said. I have been awakened by odors that caused headaches and stomach aches. I have had to leave my home. I have been similarly disparaged and intimidated for complaining about odors. First they ignore you, hoping you’ll go away. Then they imply that you’re imagining or exaggerating the problem. It can take several attempts to get any response.

But Karen is a special problem for the industry because she and her husband have worked in and support the oil & gas industry but they don’t believe drilling should be allowed in residential communities.

Former task force member and currently the attorney representing Battlement Concerned Citizens, Matt Sura spoke out:

… Residents said they’re worried about noise, wildfires, explosions and other possible impacts from drilling in a residential area. The second proposed pad is near a municipal water intake for Battlement Mesa on the Colorado River, which has prompted concerns that pollutants from the pad could taint the water supply. Also of concern is Ursa’s long-term proposal for a wastewater injection well on that pad.

“Can you imagine a worse location for a toxic injection well?” asked Matt Sura, an attorney who represents activist groups on oil and gas issues.

Sura sat on the task force, which he said ultimately recommended only one meaningful requirement, that large drilling facilities in urban areas be located as far as possible from homes.

“That hasn’t happened” in the Ursa process, he said.

He said companies like Ursa realize they can propose anything they want and it will get approved, including a pad near a school.

“I think that Coloradans are right to see that the system is broken,” he said.

He said people can go back and forth on whether what’s proposed for the state ballot this fall is an appropriate solution, but “it is at least a solution.”

One proposed measure would impose 2,500-foot setbacks between drilling and homes or areas of concern such as surface waters, which the COGCC says would make about 90 percent of the state off-limits to drilling …

It’s important to note that at the core of the Battlement residents’ concerns is the fact that Ursa was assessed a $20,625 penalty on Tuesday for several recent violations, and these are not their first violations and this is not their first penalty. This company is well-known to residents in Garfield County as a “dirty driller,” meaning they are careless and use cost-cutting measures to save money that put health and safety at risk. At a meeting in Silt last October, Ursa’s John Doose claimed the company has bi-monthly safety meetings. Considering that oil & gas worker is one of the most dangerous jobs in the world, and they are drilling inside or very near residential areas, and the vague term bi-monthly can mean twice a month or every other month, AND they keep stacking up violations, the folks at Ursa clearly are not having enough safety meetings.

Regulators hear pro, con comments on Ursa plans

State regulators heard a flurry of comments Tuesday in Glenwood Springs pitting people’s livelihoods against health and safety concerns.

At the center of the concerns are plans by Ursa Resources, which was assessed a $20,625 penalty Tuesday for several violations, to drill two pads totaling more than 50 wells inside the Battlement Mesa community …

… The remarks from industry supporters did little to calm Karen Knupp, a Battlement Mesa resident who spoke with a shaky voice while attempting to hold back tears.

Knupp filed complaints with the COGCC in December concerning odors. Ursa attempted to remedy the situation and installed new equipment at three of its locations surrounding Battlement Mesa within days of the complaint.

While inspecting Ursa sites that same month, COGCC staff found leaks from the production tanks on Ursa’s Yater and Monument Ridge pads. They also found open hatches on condensate tanks on the Watson Ranch B pad and observed that “Ursa did not have any equipment present to control odors produced by the storage tanks at the Watson Ranch B Pad,” according to a list of findings.

COGCC concluded Ursa was in minor violation of the rules, but showed no pattern of violation and no gross negligence or knowing and willful misconduct.

The violations and ensuing discussions between the state and Ursa led to the $20,625 penalty approved by COGCC Tuesday.

Speaking outside the meeting, Don Simpson, vice president of business development for Ursa, said the Knupps account for 90 percent of the complaints Ursa receives in the area, adding that there are more than 127 homes between the Knupps and the nearest pad.

Knupp recently filed a complaint on July 12 and 13, according to COGCC records. Nausea caused by odors forced Knupp to leave her home just before 2 a.m., according to one of the complaints.

Knupp shared the experience during her comments Tuesday and said that Ursa has labeled her a “chronic complainer.”

“Yes, we are chronic complainers, with reason,” she said before asking the commission how they would feel if they had to leave their home in the middle of the night.

Given the problems with noise and other impacts stemming from oil and gas development just outside Battlement Mesa in recent years, there are critical concerns about bringing that same development in the community, said Betsy Leonard, another resident. Leonard said she has no confidence that Ursa will be able to mitigate those problems once it starts drilling in the community.

Others pointed to specific concerns with Ursa’s B pad, which regulators continue to review. Of particular concern is the pad’s location upstream from the Battlement Mesa water intake system that pulls water from the Colorado River, which is within 400 feet of the proposed pad location.

“Mistakes are made,” Ben Tipton, a longtime and former water treatment plant operator for the city of Glenwood Springs, said while questioning the pad’s proximity to the river and water infrastructure.

For some, the events in Battlement Mesa are indicative of the state’s approach to oil and gas development.

“To affirm their record of approving over 99 percent of drilling permit applications, it looks like the COGCC intends to continue the practice, even in residential communities where sites have multiple liabilities,” Doug Saxton, co-chair of Battlement Concerned Citizens, wrote in prepared remarks delivered at a press conference Tuesday. “Apparently, inherently bad locations will not be treated as such when it comes to permitting” …

As always, the offer stands if anyone would like write a guest post about the meeting and press conference, please send it to:

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2 Comments on “New state rule fails to protect public health, safety and welfare”

  1. Bob Arrington Says:

    Simpson, in meeting after meeting in BM, stated, “We can’t” to every inquiry about using higher inclination angles for longer reaches. Since it has been shown WPX did that type of drilling, he now says, “It’s too dangerous” which comes after being shown it has been done.Garfield County took the extra step of trying to “prove” by expert outside opinion that 45 deg. was a maximum. The expert’s first response was that 45 deg was common, but it was not the maximum. Curiously he sent a design well plot that went well over the 65 deg. which County and Ursa took issue with. After a week of email exchanges, the expert condescended that the operator had to do what they could do. That was relayed to the Planning Commission as agreeing 45 deg. was a maximum. After a later meeting between myself, County’s Jarman and Ursa’s Honeycutt I was challenged that hundreds of drill plans had been examined and I would not find drilling exceeding 45 deg. So I found them as next door neighbor of Ursa – WPX across the river from Ursa’s Speakman pad. I also found Ursa’s claim of 3900′ top of gas actually varied all the to a 5000′ on their own presentation. And where they claimed top of gas entry had to be vertical, I found operators, including Ursa, were quite commonly still “building” the drill to vertical through the top of gas. I find myself having a very hard time to believe Ursa’s claims about higher inclination drilling angles.
    On other hand, The cost of drilling further reaches does take more time which is cost. The puzzle was their cost would be minus the expense of new pad, lease payments, and remediation/mitigations. But this new pad collection is valuable for establishment of future siting of more extensive drilling and an ASSET to show present investors and future investors. The extra drilling costs could be taken care of in a few days of production, but increased assets would be paying off for years. Mike Samson asked me why Ursa would spend more on facility if they didn’t have to in the December BOCC hearing and I no sooner got out the first few words about assets and Jankovsky cut us off “to move forward”.
    But for the COGCC to not demand Ursa lay all this out in alternate site analysis shows, that despite a new rule to do this, COGCC will not say “NO” until it is done. Ursa’s press to site next to the Parachute High School is more of the taking advantage of COGCC acquiescence to establish a precedent case that will be used to forever beat up on the people’s only protection.
    If you folks have not signed the petitions to set these guys back from homes and get control back to locals where there is often more sensitivity to voters, please do so today if not as soon as possible.

  2. Peggy Tibbetts Says:

    Bob, do you have petitions we can sign?

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