Drilling plans displease Battlement Mesa residents
BATTLEMENT MESA — The discussion on plans to drill within the Battlement Mesa Planned Unit Development took on a much sharper and critical tone Monday night at a meeting organized by a local citizens group.
The intent of the meeting was to add a citizen perspective, Dave Devanney, chair of Battlement Concerned Citizens, told a packed room at the Grand Valley Fire Station.
Ursa Operating Co. has hosted a series of meetings in Battlement Mesa detailing its plans to drill inside the PUD. The operator submitted three complete permits for phase one of its project with Garfield County in August. That phase includes two pads — the BMC B Pad and BMC D Pad — totaling 53 wells, as well as an approximately 2.5-mile pipeline.
The community meetings have been informative, Devanney said, but he hoped Monday’s meeting would allow residents to express their concerns and create a call to action.
“While it seems inevitable, a lot can be done to keep (Battlement Mesa) a desirable place to live,” he added.
Specifically, Ursa should conduct and make public an alternative development analysis proving that it cannot produce all the gas underneath the PUD from outside its boundaries, said Matt Sura, attorney for Battlement Concerned Citizens.
Previously, Ursa officials stated that the geological formation would prohibit draining all of the gas from outside the PUD. Information provided at a July meeting hosted by Ursa, stated it would take approximately 197 wells to drill out the entire PUD. Of those, 103 would be drilled from outside the PUD, leaving 94 that would have to be drilled inside.
Ursa conducts an alternative analysis early in the process, said Robert Bleil, regulatory and environmental manager for Ursa. In this instance, that started in July 2014 and led to a reduction in proposed well pads, as well as a commitment from Ursa to relinquish pipeline included in the original development plan by Antero Resources, according to Bleil, who attended Monday’s meeting.
“We’ve talked about this in our meetings that we’ve held in the community,” he added.
However, that was not good enough from some in attendance Monday.
“Prove it,” said Don Gray, a Battlement Mesa resident who started a petition effort last fall against development in the PUD. “They’ve never proved it.”
‘THEY CAN DO BETTER’
If Ursa proves it cannot produce the resources from outside the PUD, attention should then turn toward mitigating health impacts, Sura said. Those include noise, air quality and the potential threats to the water supply, among others.
“They can do better. You should demand that they do better,” he said.
Some of the residents who spoke Monday, such as Bonnie Smeltzer, said they are already suffering health effects that they attributed to existing oil and gas activity outside of the PUD. Smeltzer, who said she lives “a half mile at most” from four natural gas pads, said she started having sinus drainage when development in the area ramped up. When she travels to Arizona to visit family or elsewhere, the problem leaves, she said.
Smeltzer was one of the few residents who spoke publicly and credited Ursa for responding to complaints in a timely manner.
Bleil reiterated those comments, adding that he thought the public discussion Monday was not indicative of everyone’s feeling in the room.
“One of the observations I had is … Ursa has gone above and beyond to engage the community, not just through these last five meetings but through the last six years,” during which more than 50 community meetings have been organized, first by Antero and then by Ursa, Bleil said.
In addition to pointing to what he called misinformation regarding certain regulations, Bleil said it was disingenuous to characterize the matter as a new issue. He questioned why meeting organizers did not put forward the same effort to mobilize crowds for previous meetings hosted by Ursa.
COUNTY COMMISSION CRITICIZED
Ursa was not the only organization criticized Monday night. Garfield County, and specifically the county commissioners, were taken to task for their decision to host the first Planning Commission public hearing in Glenwood Springs — the standard meeting place for such meetings.
That decision, explained County Community Development Director Fred Jarman, was partially based on the commissioners’ desire to “capture a good record” of the public meetings. Those resources and recording equipment are housed at the administration building at 108 Eighth St., in Glenwood Springs.
That answer did not satisfy some residents who want to see at least one meeting hosted in Battlement Mesa. The Grand Valley Citizens Alliance (GVCA) is currently lobbying the county to do just that. If need be, the alliance will rent buses to transport people to the meeting, said Leslie Robinson, GVCA president.
Reached by phone Tuesday, Jarman said the commissioners had not given him further notice on future meeting locations. He said comments and questions for the county should be directed to him at this point in the review process.
Frustration Monday boiled beyond the location of the hearings, as several called for residents to make their anger known during the next election if the commissioners approve Ursa’s permits. Gray, who said he probably had more than 300 signatures on his petition after the meeting, hopes to collect between 400 and 500 total signatures before presenting the document to the county.
“It may not change their mind, but at least we tried,” he said.
Devanney, who was pleased with the overall turnout, expressed similar doubt in fighting what he and others referred to as an uphill battle. “We have to try, though,” he said.
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