Garfield County declines to intervene on injection well in Battlement Mesa
Garfield County will not ask Colorado regulators for a hearing on the siting of a potential wastewater injection well that was included in a state permit for a natural gas pad in Battlement Mesa.
Instead, county commissioners, while sharing some uneasy feelings about the idea of injection wells in general, unanimously decided to rely on the local permitting process needed for the operator, Ursa Resources, to actually drill the injection well.
Citizen groups opposed to Ursa’s drilling plans in the residential community of more than 4,000 people asked the county commissioners to request a public hearing before the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission on Ursa’s BMC B pad, which was approved Sept. 10.
Approval of the pad touched off an outcry from opponents, with one calling on the governor to intervene. So far a formal request has not been made of Gov. John Hickenlooper, but opponents intend to do so, Leslie Robinson, chair of the Grand Valley Citizen’s Alliance, said Monday.
In this instance, the county had the necessary standing to request the hearing, while the citizen groups did not. The county had to make the request in writing 10 days from the date of the state’s decision. That period expired at midnight.
COGCC’s approval included 24 drilling permits for natural gas wells on the pad, as well as a siting permit — officially called a form 2A — for the entire pad. The form 2A included equipment associated with an injection well and a 25th well, which has been described as a placeholder for a future injection well.
COGCC director Matt Lepore explained by telephone during the commissioners’ meeting Monday that the state’s approval of the form 2A requires Ursa to first receive approval from Garfield County before seeking the state permit to drill the injection well.
The fact that the county, as Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said, “holds all the cards” was enough of a reason for the commissioners to unanimously reject the request from the groups.
“The final say on that injection well will be with this Board of County Commissioners,” Commissioner Mike Samson said.
While the citizen groups — Battlement Concerned Citizens and the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance — requested a hearing on the B pad, it was the injection well that they hoped to address in a hearing before the COGCC.
The local groups were not seeking an overturning of the entire pad, which also went through a county process that included a string of lengthy public hearings in late 2015.
As Doug Saxton, co-chair of Battlement Concerned Citizens, explained Monday, the groups were simply trying to have all references to an injection well removed from the state siting permit for the B pad, which is within 400 feet of the Colorado River and upstream from the Battlement Mesa water intake system.
Their request comes amid continued conversations and concerns in the U.S. on injection wells used to dispose of water and materials unearthed during the natural resource extraction process.
Following a 5.8-magnitude earthquake in Oklahoma earlier this month, regulators ordered 32 disposal wells to shut down, the Associated Press reported. Research has found an association between high-volume wastewater injection wells and seismic activity.
Saxton and others at Monday’s meeting referenced a February letter from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment suggesting COGCC deny Ursa’s permit for the injection well. The letter came before Ursa pulled its permit to drill the injection well.
“After considering the long-term risk to the public water supply and the flexibility available to the operator when locating Class II injection wells, the department recommends that the COGCC deny the permit for the injection well and the associated storage tanks on the URSA BMC B well pad,” the letter states.
CDPHE also stated its belief that injection wells do not belong in residential areas. Another letter in March reaffirmed that position.
However, Rob Bleil, regulatory and environmental manager for Ursa, noted that those letters came in the early stages of a process that spanned more than nine months. Since then Ursa made a series of concessions, including higher-level monitoring, aimed at addressing CDPHE’s concerns, Bleil said.
Matthew Sura, an attorney representing the two citizen groups, said they were not opposed to the idea of an injection well, which oil and gas operators cite as a means for reducing truck traffic. Rather, it’s the specific location that concerned residents, he said.
The request for the hearing was an attempt to square the differences between COGCC, which approved the siting of the injection well in Ursa’s form 2A, and CDPHE, which stated such operations should not exist in close proximity to people.
Ultimately, the Garfield commissioners felt the local permitting process, should Ursa move forward with the injection well, was more than enough to allow for public input.
That process would require an amendment to the agreement establishing Battlement Mesa, a planned unit development in unincorporated Garfield County, which would require a public hearing before the planning and zoning commission and then the commissioners.
If the amendment were approved, Ursa would then have to submit a permit — likely a special use permit — which also would likely require a public hearing before the planning and zoning commission and the commissioners.
Although the commissioners felt comfortable with the potential of four public hearings, they were less unanimous in their comfort with injection wells in general.
Commissioner John Martin said flat out that he did not like them, while Jankovsky noted that commissioners opposed the idea of an injection well on the pad when it was before the commissioners in December.
While that was a bright spot, the overall decision by the commissioners was not a surprise, Dave Devanney, the other Battlement Concerned Citizens co-chair, said after the meeting.
“I think it’s consistent with the policies of Garfield County to support the oil and gas industry in any and every way they can,” he said. “And they apparently care little about the wishes of the citizens of Garfield County that are trying to protect their homes and communities.”
Ursa officials have previously stated they intend to move forward with the injection well permitting in the near future. County and state officials on Monday had not received applications for the injection well permits.
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