Commissioners wobble then cave on injection well rezoning

By a vote of 2 to 1, Garfield County commissioners approved Battlement Mesa Co.’s application for a zoning change to allow for an injection well within the Battlement Mesa community.

Judging by their comments at the public hearing on Monday, the commissioners didn’t seem convinced of the need for an injection well but two of them voted for it anyway.

According to an article in the Daily Sentinel, Commissioner Tom Jankovsky, who usually votes in support of the oil & gas industry, said that the county’s decision to allow drilling in Battlement Mesa “reflected the fact that mineral rights are a property right.”

“There are not property rights for injection wells,” he said.

He added that “while he’s relatively comfortable with injection wells, Ursa’s proposed well is something that residents have sought relief from, and that’s a request he feels he can honor.”

Jankovsky is up for re-election next year and voted against the zoning change.

Commissioners John Martin and Mike Samson were re-elected last November and voted in favor.

According to the Daily Sentinel, Samson said “he has a lot of questions when it comes to injection wells and will be seeking a better understanding of the proposal from Ursa when it comes back to ask the county for a special-use permit for the well. It will need to get that permit under the new zoning.”

“I think the burden of proof is going to be on them [Ursa] quite heavily to convince us that that would be the appropriate thing to do,” Samson said.

According to the Post Independent, after approving the zoning change Samson said, “I have not made up my mind with injection wells, but I’m willing to let Ursa come forward with their rational [sic] why and where this is a good idea.”

“I want to reiterate that we are not approving an injection well,” he added. “This is opening the door for them to submit an application for an injection well.”

While it might seem like Samson’s comments indicate he could be persuaded to vote against an injection well permit in Battlement Mesa, I don’t recall the commissioners ever turning down an injection well application. So there’s that.

The Daily Sentinel reported:

“Commissioner John Martin said he doesn’t like injection wells because he thinks water brought up from underground during oil and gas production should be able to be filtered and put to agricultural and other surface uses, but the industry is only allowed to recycle it for oil and gas uses. If leftover water is not disposed of in injection wells it is sent to evaporation ponds, a form of disposal that raises health concerns, he noted.”

Evaporation ponds raise health concerns so he thinks it’s better to spray it on crops? Not so fast, John.

There is currently an ongoing debate in California about the use of oil & gas wastewater on crops. That state’s Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board has allowed the practice for at least four decades and only recently required the oil companies and water districts to disclose the details.

Last fall the Environmental Working Group (EWG) released a report that contained the following conclusions:

  • The work of the water board’s expert panel to study the issue is hindered because oil companies hide the names of chemicals behind claims of trade secrecy.
  • No firm conclusion can be reached about the safety of food grown with wastewater without a complete review of the hazards of all the chemicals used; long-term analyses of water, soil and food samples; and evaluation of impacts on groundwater and farmworkers.
  • Those evaluations must also be free of conflicts of interest, unlike the limited wastewater tests conducted by consultants hired by Chevron, or crop tests by consultants hired by irrigation districts.
  • Until independent scientific studies can say whether it is safe to irrigate food crops with wastewater, the state should suspend existing permits and declare a moratorium on new projects.
  • An independent review body should take a closer look at more rigorous data to assure the public that the food produced with wastewater is safe — for the short and long term.

Tasha Stoiber, EWG senior scientist and author of the report said: “There are too many unanswered questions about whether crops could take up the chemicals in the wastewater and whether that could harm people’s health. The only way to know for sure if this practice is safe for consumers, farm workers and the environment is to conduct a thorough and independent study.”

It’s important to pause and set the record straight when a politician puts something like that out there at a public hearing, as if it’s settled science. There are no independent, peer-reviewed studies that indicate irrigating crops with recycled wastewater is safe.

Water use in oil & gas operations has always been considered consumptive use, meaning it cannot be used for anything other than industry uses. Martin should know better.

Arguing in favor of the zoning change, Battlement Mesa Co. and Ursa claimed that putting an injection well in the community would supposedly lessen surface impacts.

As reported in the PI, “Eric Schmela, president of Battlement Mesa Co., said that the proposal’s sole purpose is to lessen the surface disturbance caused by oil and gas operations.”

“The reason that we are here today is to further our continued desire to reduce the surface impacts,” he said. “The whole point is to put in an injection well so that none of the water hauling efforts need to be hauled through the community.”

Ursa Operations Superintendent Matt Honeycutt added that in the company’s multiple community meetings he heard three main concerns: traffic, odors and noise. He believes that this proposal helps to lessen those concerns.

Leslie Robinson, chair of the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance, argued, “Trucking is a temporary hassle; zones for injection wells are forever. We believe that the zone is too close to residential areas, the Colorado River and other municipal facilities.”

Bob Arrington said he thinks a well would be better located just outside the development or in an undeveloped part of it, adding, “There are options here but they have not been fully explored.”

The good news is there could be more opportunities for those options to be explored. Before Ursa can install an injection well in Battlement Mesa, they will need approval from those same commissioners and then they must seek approval from the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC).

Battlement Mesa residents were disgusted by the commissioners’ capitulation, though it wasn’t surprising considering their long history of voting on the side of industry over the people. Earlier this month the three amigos voted unanimously to oppose HB-1256 (the bill to increase school setbacks that failed in Senate committee last week) saying that the issue should go through the COGCC rulemaking process, not the state legislature. In other words, the industry should decide, not the people.

Business as usual in Garfield County.


GarCo commission OKs zoning change for injection well

Garfield commissioners clear way for Battlement injection well

Why Are California Farmers Irrigating Crops With Oil Wastewater?

Toxic Chemicals May Contaminate Oil Field Wastewater Used to Grow Calif. Crops

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