County continues hearing on Battlement drilling plan
BATTLEMENT MESA — A decision by Garfield County commissioners regarding Ursa Resources’ applications to drill within the Planned Unit Development (PUD) won’t come until Wednesday at the earliest, following a full day of comments Tuesday from opponents and supporters of the proposals.
Commissioners continued the meeting on Ursa’s applications to drill 53 wells on two pads in the PUD and construct 2.5 miles of pipeline. The meeting will resume at 9 a.m. Wednesday at the county administration building in Glenwood Springs.
Ursa needs special use permits from the county in order to move forward for plans within the PUD, where a number of residents have expressed concerns about the proposed operations’ close proximity to homes.
Before the start of public comments, Commissioner John Martin explained that Tuesday’s meeting was intended to allow for public comment, and that a decision would not be made during the meeting. When a decision will be made is at the discretion of the board, Martin added.
Residents had lobbied the county to hold at least one meeting in Battlement Mesa, which led the county to hold Tuesday’s meeting in the unincorporated community in western Garfield County. More than 150 people attended and comments, both for and against the applications, continued for more than three hours Tuesday before the meeting closed.
Opponents of the current proposal understand the benefits, economic and others, of the energy industry, said Don Gray, a Battlement Mesa resident who collected more than 400 petition signatures requesting commissioners to reject the applications.
“We’re not trying to stop drilling,” Gray said. “We’re just trying to protect our homes and our community and our quality of life.”
Pads already drilled directly outside the PUD have sparked health concerns, said Bonnie Smeltzer, a Battlement resident who lives within a quarter-mile of existing well pads outside of the PUD. Headaches, eye irritations and a nosebleed that Smeltzer said sent her to the emergency room are indicative of living in an industrial zone.
Ursa is always quick to respond and offer explanations, she added, but “explanations are not solutions.”
“Consider this,” Smeltzer said to the commissioners, “would you buy a house here and raise your family here in an industrial zone?”
The question was asked several more times as residents concerned about health impacts and losses in property value testified.
Others spoke positively of Ursa’s engagement with the community, including Chuck Hall, chair of the Battlement Mesa Service Association’s oil and gas committee. Hall said he had not experienced some of the same issues others spoke of, and he commended Ursa for doing “a good job of trying to inform us of what’s going on in the community.”
Contractors in the energy industry stated their belief that Ursa has done much more than what other operators have done.
Jeremy Celayeta, who works for an oil and gas contractor in Parachute, informed the commissioners that he had worked with many companies, and while Battlement Mesa residents have every right to be concerned, Celayeta thought Ursa had gone “above and beyond” in agreeing to “unprecedented” standards and conditions of approval.
Those conditions, recommended by the county’s Planning Commission, include a three-year clock that starts once construction begins, and the implementation of an air-monitoring program designed by the county and paid for by Ursa.
Rob Bleil, regulatory and environmental manager for Ursa, said he could not remember participating in a longer and more thorough application process during his career than the current process. In addition to the more than 70 conditions of approval recommended by the Planning Commission, Bleil said Ursa has agreed to best management practices, including some pertaining to a non-binding health impact assessment by Colorado School of Public Health that the county commissioned in 2009 but was never completed.
Still, many residents called for commissioners to reject the applications.
“It’s pretty simple,” said Battlement resident Van Merritt. “There’s no business having a drilling rig in a residential area.”
Although the citizen group Battlement Concerned Citizens still opposes the proposal, additional conditions should be included to protect the health and welfare of residents if the applications are approved, said Doug Saxton, co-chair of the group.
Those include allowing for immediate inspections in the event of an emergency and requiring Ursa to submit a comprehensive drilling plan for in and around the PUD.
The two pads and pipeline being considered by Ursa are phase 1 in what will be a multi-phase plan to drill out the gas underneath the PUD.
More testimony is expected Wednesday, including presentations that were not accepted Tuesday. Ursa also will have the opportunity to respond to points made in previous testimony.
Regardless what the commissioners decide, Bleil said prior to the start of Tuesday’s meeting, the fact that the community has been engaged is a net win.
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