County upholds decision on Ursa injection well
July 16, 2014
A new injection well planned as part of Ursa Resources' operations near Battlement Mesa will be allowed to proceed, Garfield County commissioners ruled Monday over concerns from some residents about the potential for induced seismic activity.
Given a lack of earthquake activity in the Piceance Basin amid years of gas-drilling activity and what commissioners deemed adequate oversight by state regulators, there's no reason to delay the company's plans any further, commissioners said.
"I do appreciate the additional education we've had on this topic as a result of this," Commissioner Tom Jankovksy said during an appeal hearing to reconsider an injection well permit issued by the county's building and planning department in May.
The appeal came from the Battlement Mesa Concerned Citizens, which had asked that the permit be granted only on the condition that seismic activity somehow be monitored and that operations cease if any unusual activity is detected.
Injection wells are commonly used by energy companies to dispose of wastewater produced in the process of drilling natural gas wells by pumping it back deeply into the ground. Other types of industry also use them to dispose of wastewater.
Recently, there has been concern in eastern Colorado and other parts of the country that the process could prompt seismic activity.
The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) recently halted operations at one injection well near Greeley after a pair of small earthquakes. Studies are being conducted to determine if there are any links.
Doug Saxton of the Battlement citizens group said Garfield County should employ safeguards to more closely monitor seismic activity near injection well sites here and to have emergency shut-down procedures in place.
"We do have concerns about induced seismicity and how that could affect us," Saxton said. "If the ground shakes in Battlement Mesa, it's not clear from this permit who would do what and when."
Mobile monitoring stations or a more permanent facility could give operators and regulators — and ultimately residents — a heads-up, he said.
According to Duke Cooley, senior geologist for Ursa who spoke at Monday's meeting, earthquake activity within the Piceance Basin region that includes western Garfield County is fairly uncommon.
What activity there has been between 1975 and present has been mostly concentrated in northern Delta and Gunnison counties, far away from active injection wells, he said, suggesting there's no need for stepped-up monitoring.
Even in the case of the earthquake activity near Greeley, the epicenter was in the range of five miles beneath the earth's surface, while injection wells in that area were less than a mile deep, Cooley said.
Kirby Wynn, the county's oil and gas liaison, also contacted Anne Sheehan, a geophysics professor at the University of Colorado-Boulder who is the lead researcher in the Greeley study. She also indicated that western Garfield County is not prone to seismic activity, Wynn said.
Rob Bleil, regulatory and environmental manager for Ursa, said the COGCC does weigh seismic concerns in its separate review of injection wells.
"That is all taken into consideration by the state in terms of its permit review process," he said.
The Battlement Mesa-area well in question has been drilled and is undergoing required testing prior to final approval by the COGCC, Bleil said.
The Battlement Citizens group had also requested that Ursa complete a pipeline to transport wastewater to the injection well site sooner than had been required by the county. Another of its concerns has been the number of truck trips through the residential area to haul water from gas well pads to the injection well.
One of the benefits of the new injection well is to cut down on truck traffic through the neighborhood that is now hauling produced water to an injection well near Silt, Bleil said.
A temporary pipeline is under construction, but a permanent one will take some time to complete, he said.