County OKs drilling inside Battlement residential zone | PostIndependent.com

County OKs drilling inside Battlement residential zone

After three days of testimony and questioning, Garfield County commissioners Thursday unanimously approved applications from Ursa Resources to drill within the Battlement Mesa residential development — clearing a significant hurdle for the operator and touching off disappointment among residents opposed to gas operations in their neighborhood.

The decision carried a lot of heartache and a lot of angst, both of which are likely to continue, Commissioner John Martin said just before the first vote.

Approval of the applications for phase one of Ursa's plans within the Planned Unit Development comes with more than 70 conditions intended to mitigate the impacts of operations, particularly in the drilling and completion phases. The latter phase involves hydraulic fracturing, commonly referred to as fracking.

In remarks prior to voting, Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said numerous factors were at play.

"This discussion has to deal with drilling within the … Battlement Mesa PUD," Jankovsky said. "But it also has to deal with property rights and state laws, and is this request compatible with existing uses … all those things have been in play."

All three commissioners thanked residents and community organizations for their involvement in the process. Without their participation, the county likely would not have set the "stringent" conditions that it ultimately approved, Jankovsky said.

Those include a requirement that all of phase one be completed within three years from the start of construction.

Still, commissioners recognized that some people would be disappointed with their decision. The few opponents who were in attendance Thursday were among those who had hoped for a different outcome.

"I see three years of nuisances," said Dave Devanney, chair of Battlement Concerned Citizens, a citizen group that lobbied the county to deny the applications. "I see three years of being the police force of industrial operations in our residential community."

The decision was disappointing, but the conditions of approval agreed to by Ursa and the county represented the second best option, said Leslie Robinson, president of Grand Valley Citizens Alliance.

Phase one plans, which include a total of 52 natural gas wells and 2.5 miles of pipeline, still must go through the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

"We're really halfway there," said Rob Bleil, regulatory and environmental manager for Ursa.

Previously, documents and statements indicated a total of 53 wells, however, further discussion Thursday clarified that one of the wells was a placeholder for a potential injection well in the future, which would require another special use permit from the county and additional permitting at the state level.

Ursa submitted its state applications in early December and expects a decision on them within 90 days. Assuming the remaining permits are granted, Bleil said he would not expect construction to start until July or August.