Hypocrisy wins again in Garfield County

Tuesday night the Garfield County Planning Commission approved Ursa’s Phase II applications for Battlement Mesa. The plan includes drilling 55 wells on 2 pads, one of which will be less than 500 feet from homes, plus an injection well, a temporary water storage facility, and pipelines.

While it’s no surprise, there was always hope that planning commissioners would put the health and safety of residents above profits from oil & gas revenues, even though they never have. In keeping with that record, they stayed the course.

Of course Ursa’s proposal still needs approval from the Board of County Commissioners and the COGCC. But I won’t feign optimism here. The proposal will sail through both bodies. The planning commission was the residents’ first and last hope to achieve any significant changes, or all-out rejection.

The approval of the injection well is especially troubling. According to extensive research and reporting at ProPublica, injection wells have been linked to water contamination, ecosystem destruction, toxic leaks, and earthquakes. With so much readily available research on the dangers surrounding injection wells it’s hard to imagine how anyone in their right mind could approve of locating one in a residential community. Yet here in Garfield County we are cursed with a myopic majority who refuse to put public health and safety over profits. Unless — god forbid — you’re planning to put a marijuana grow facility next to a residential area. In fact, 4 years ago GarCo commissioners banned recreational marijuana growing, product manufacturing facilities, testing facilities and retail stores in unincorporated areas. Their ordinance states that “…the operation of marijuana establishments … presents an immediate threat to the public health, safety and welfare …”

Back in 2012, there was the case of an asphalt plant seeking approval to locate next to an organic farm. The commissioners decided to “err on the side of good judgment” and told the owner to locate elsewhere. Though the commissioners weren’t actually concerned with public health. They were more concerned about the organic farmer being able to sell his produce.

Unfortunately Battlement Mesa residents, especially those living in Tamarisk Village, will not receive those same concerns from the county. And, since Battlement Mesa is located in unincorporated Garfield County, residents can’t grow, sell or test pot — but Ursa can drill in their backyards.

The ship of good judgment has long since sailed from these parts.

Almost all the mobile homes in Tamarisk Village are within 1,000 feet of one of the proposed well pads. Eight of them are within 500 feet. So unless they grow organic gardens from which they plan to sell organic produce, they don’t have a prayer.

There is one tiny hitch. According to state regulations, well pads cannot be located within 500 feet of homes. Ursa had to get signed waivers from residents living within that setback in order to avoid a variance hearing with the COGCC. Last week the Daily Sentinel reported that Stephanie and Josh Archuleta received $2,400 in paid lot rent in return for signing the waiver. On Monday, KDNK’s Amy Hadden Marsh reported that William Swanson was paid $7,500 for his signature. Marsh added that at the September 13th planning commission meeting Ursa’s VP Don Simpson denied paying compensation for the waivers.

In an interview with March, Matt Sura, attorney for Battlement Concerned Citizens, said compensation for the waivers is not illegal but the fact that residents did not know what rights they were giving up or that state rules prohibit drilling less than 500 feet from homes makes the waivers illegal and should render them invalid.

Listen to the full interview here: Ursa Pays Residents to Sign Waivers

All of which begs the question — what’s the point of having setback rules? Allowing operators to bribe residents into signing waivers so they can break the rules pretty much invalidates those rules.

It’s no wonder Coloradans don’t trust their local and state governments. They no longer represent the people.

For more information:

Garfield panel OKs additional drilling in Battlement Mesa

… Ursa already is in the process of drilling more than 50 wells from two pads in a first phase of development in Battlement Mesa. Controversy over its second-phase proposal has centered on the proximity of some homes and inclusion of an injection well. The commission approved that well by a 4-3 vote. Activists fear the injection well could cause earthquakes or contaminate water, while Ursa says it is safe.

“Of course we’re disappointed with the injection well approval but it was a tight vote. We look forward to the battle continuing with the county commissioners,” said Leslie Robinson with the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance …

… Ursa had asked for some revisions in the conditions of county approval for the project, in areas such as groundwater testing, detection of air-polluting leaks, and use of sound and visual screening walls, when compared to the first phase of drilling. But the planning commission approvals included the conditions recommended by county staff, something Robinson considered a victory for residents.

“It didn’t make sense to change the rules of the game from phase one to phase two,” she said.

Ursa contends some flexibility is needed when it comes to use of the walls because of the potential for unintentionally reflecting sound in a different direction and affecting other residents …


Battlement injection well wins initial OK

… “I believe the applicant has gone to substantial lengths to mitigate, and I think the record is pretty clear that they worked pretty hard,” said Planning Commissioner Keith Lammey, who added that the board’s challenge is to find the balance between mineral rights owners and landowners.

“They have been as good as we can possibly expect as being good operators. We could have done worse than who we have before us. On the basis of trying to find balance on this issue, I’m going to move [to recommend Ursa’s application],” Lammey said …

… The sole commissioner who spoke against the application, Michael Sullivan, urged the Planning Commission to deny the application.

“Let’s not just look at the short term, but please keep in mind 30, 50, up to 100 years down the road,” he pleaded with the rest of the commission. “I believe this application benefits the stockholders of Ursa period and a small portion of employment in Garfield County.”

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One Comment on “Hypocrisy wins again in Garfield County”

  1. Tod Tibbetts Says:

    I am sure that some Battlement Mesa residents remember when Antero started the process of drilling in their neighborhood and they were promised $ 1,000,000.00 for the BMSA, which Keith Lammey was the head of around that time and is still a Board member. Here’s a quote from the Vail Daily back in 2009.
    “Rather than hoping to stop the drilling, the BMSA is interested in “managing the drilling so it will have minimal impacts on our community,” said Lammey. For now, he said, the BMSA’s main concern regarding Antero’s drilling plans is how best to deal with a $1 million contribution to the coffers of BMSA, pledged by the company last year. The first payment of that contribution, $250,000, is supposed to be handed over once drilling begins inside the PUD boundary, and there is no plan as yet about how to spend it.”

    Like the trailer owners, how much of this $ 1,000,000 went to pay for support of the project and how much actually went to benefit the people of Battlement Mesa. My guess is not much went to the people.
    Seems like Mr Lammey has a BIG conflict of interest in his motion and vote to approve Phase II.
    It looks like money buys approval for projects in Garfield County even when they are against COGCC rules.

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