Battlement Mesa takes a page from earlier battle plan | PostIndependent.com

Battlement Mesa takes a page from earlier battle plan

John ColsonPost Independent staffGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado

BATTLEMENT MESA, Colorado – Residents here are likely to use an established play book in their efforts to deal with planned natural gas drilling in the neighborhood – the same play book used to create a 2006 drilling plan for the Silt/Rifle/New Castle area.This general plan came about at a meeting on June 23 of more than 100 people, held at the Battlement Mesa Activity Center and sponsored by the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance, the same group that spearheaded the Rifle, Silt, New Castle Community Development Plan (RSNC) with Antero Resources Corp.The Battlement Mesa community, located across the Colorado River from the town of Parachute, learned recently that Antero is planning to build 10 drilling pads within the Battlement Mesa Planned Unit Development boundaries.Company representatives said at the meeting that plans call for drilling up to two wells from each pad.Early in the meeting, those in attendance heard about the RSNC plan from one of those who helped write it, and who said that the process established at the time would serve the Battlement Mesa residents well.”This process literally ate a year of my life,” said Petty Utesch, a former resident of the Divide Creek area who moved away in 2007, after battling with gas companies over drilling practices and after the discovery of the “West Divide Creek seep,” – an industrial spill that polluted area groundwater.Working with Antero and the GVCA, Utesch and others came up with the 26-page Community Development Plan (CDP,) which a company representative said continues to be the guiding document for drilling activities in that part of Garfield County.”I had an axe to grind with industry,” Utesch admitted about her initial involvement in the issue, but she added that in the process of drafting the CDP she came to a better understanding of why the gas industry took the stands it did, just as industry representatives came to know more about citizens’ needs and concerns.As for the Battlement Mesa situation, she said, “I think anyone here deciding to engage [in a planning process] with Antero, you need to take ownership of the process. It’s a community plan … it can’t be a community plan without your input.”There was considerable praise for Antero expressed by some of those present at the meeting, who noted that there was no legal requirement for the company to work with the citizens.One New Castle resident, who was identified only as Tara, thanked Antero for its willingness to come to such meetings and deal directly with the residents, and cautioned the crowd against being too harsh on the company representatives.”Let ’em know what you think,” she said, but not in such a way that would end the interaction.”They didn’t need to come here,” she said.During the discussion, it became apparent that one organization, the Battlement Mesa Services Association, already has the inside track in terms of working with Antero.Antero is ready to work with the Battlement Mesa residents, said company vice president Kevin Kilstrom.And, he pledged, “There will be multiple steps for input by individuals from the county level.”But he said the company already is working on a proposed CDP for the community, and that it would prefer to work with the BMSA’s oil and gas committee “to make it as efficient as possible.”Chuck Hall, president of the BMSA, told the crowd that anyone owning a lot or a house in Battlement Mesa automatically has “some kind of voice in the community.” He also pointed out that Antero has pledged to pay the BMSA $1 million, in four payments once drilling starts, to be used as the BMSA sees fit.Some in the crowd, however, grumbled that they were not sure the BMSA’s committee will represent their interests firmly enough.”It’s got to be a process where people feel they can trust the ones doing the negotiating,” said Paul Light, facilitator of the meeting and a member of both the GVCA and the Western Colorado Congress, an umbrella organization for Western Slope nonprofit organizations.”I don’t think it’s there right now for the Services Association,” Light said of the level of trust needed to satisfy neighbors upset about the drilling plans. The BMSA meets on the second Tuesday of every month at 3:30 p.m. in the Activity Center, Hall said, urging his neighbors to get involved.Attendees also were urged to attend and speak up at meetings of the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission planned for Garfield County next month. The COGCC is scheduled to meet with the Garfield County commissioners on July 14-15, at the Hotel Colorado, and the COGCC will be at Battlement Mesa on the evening of July 8, at an as-yet undetermined location.According to Dave Neslin, director of the COGCC, the July 8 meeting is to inform residents of the COGCC’s review process regarding Antero’s plans, and the opportunities for public input into that process.Among other concerns brought up at the meeting were:• The state’s allowance for wells to be drilled within 150 feet of an occupied home (the GVCA has been advocating for a 1,000-foot limit);• Whether the BMSA was aware of Antero’s two years of negotiations with Battlement Mesa Partners, owners of the PUD site, regarding the drilling plans (Hall said his group learned of the plans only a week before the community at large heard about it on May 27);• And whether the company sees this plan for 10 well pads as only phase one of a larger number of future wells (Kilstrom said there are no plans for additional drilling at this point.)jcolson@postindependent.com


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