County staff urges rejecting Battlement Mesa injection well
Days before the Garfield County Planning Commission is set to vote on whether to allow an injection well inside the Battlement Mesa residential boundaries, the commission staff recommended denying the proposal.
The well location, the staff said, “will have unreasonable adverse effect on the surrounding area, including the safety of the Battlement Mesa Metro District public water supply intake,” which is roughly 600 feet from the area proposed for rezoning.
The well is on the agenda for Wednesday’s Planning Commission meeting, to decide whether to create a new zone district that would allow injection wells in Battlement Mesa under a special use permit.
The zone would be called the “Public Service, Recreation and Injection Well” zone and would set aside 37 acres along the north end of the community by the Colorado River.
Since Ursa Resources owns the mineral rights beneath Battlement Mesa, the company won approval last year from state regulators to develop 53 natural gas wells within the residential boundaries of Battlement Mesa. Injection wells, though, used to dispose of wastewater from the drilling process, are currently not permitted within Battlement Mesa.
The proposal for changes to the unincorporated area’s zoning map has seen strong opposition from community activist groups throughout Garfield County.
“We’re ecstatic about the staff rejecting the injection well permit application, but we know the members of the Planning Commission and the county commissioners are the real deciders, “ said Leslie Robinson, president of the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance. “The Planning Commission and county commissioners have their own agenda when it comes to oil and gas, so I don’t know how they will lean.”
Robinson said that she remains apprehensive heading into the vote because the county commissioners have consistently voted to approve oil and gas activities over citizen concerns.
“We just don’t know if staff arguments will be strong enough to persuade the Planning Commission, but it was definitely a pleasant surprise,” she added.
The staff report cites comments from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment last February as evidence.
“The proposed location is not well located and safe as reflected in referral comments from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) identifying risks to the Battlement Mesa Metro District public water supply intake,” the staff report states.
The letter has been consistently referenced by opposition of the injection well as the bid has progressed.
“The department believes it creates a significant contamination risk to the public water supply for Battlement Mesa,” the letter said. “The department believes Class II injection wells should not be located in urban mitigation areas.”
Asked about the letter last month, Ursa Vice President of Business Development Don Simpson said he didn’t believe it held much weight because of all the changes the company has made to the proposed well since then. Asked about it again Monday in light of the staff recommendation, Simpson said he believed changes to the proposed pad sufficiently mitigated risk.
“We’re a little surprised [by the staff comments] and intend to have more discussion on our plan, and we’ll see what happens,” he said.
“We’re always looking to improve our project if we can,” he said. “We’re going to talk it out on Wednesday and see if we can come up with a solution.”
The report, which was released late last week by the Garfield County Community Development Department staff, identifies many concerns with the proposed injection well that have been laid out by opposition within Garfield County.
“I wasn’t really surprised by the staff’s decision,” said Dave Devanney of Battlement Concerned Citizens. “In a lot of ways it’s a common sense decision because you just don’t put waste removal within a community.
“I’m just happy that they have taken this position and hope it will be taken into consideration by the county commissioners,” he added. “I’ve been doing this enough that I never get too confident.”
The Garfield County Planning Commission meets at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Garfield County Administration Building in Glenwood Springs.
If the Planning Commission approves the proposal, Ursa’s contractor would still have to win approval from the county commission and the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to develop the well.
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Former Carbondale trustee Katrina Byars said she wants to bring a voice of environmental sustainability to the commission, and believes her opponent has served long enough.