Ursa requests hearing on Battlement applications
Some Battlement Mesa residents are concerned that Ursa Resources is attempting to pressure state regulators into a hasty review of plans to drill within the community, while the company asserts it is merely seeking to prevent its proposals from languishing.
In an unusual move, Ursa in early April requested a hearing before the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission regarding its applications to construct two pads totaling as many as 53 wells within the Battlement Mesa Planned Unit Development.
The request came a little more than 90 days after COGCC had deemed the applications complete in early January. Since the initial request, Ursa — which, in an unrelated matter, was recently assessed a $36,000 penalty over failure to control odors near Battlement Mesa — has asked for a continuation on the hearing until July.
“We didn’t feel it was moving fast enough ahead so we went ahead and got on the docket,” said Don Simpson, vice president of business development. “And we had some more meetings with (COGCC staff) and then we said, ‘OK it looks like we’re moving ahead … so let’s just postpone it and get that hearing pushed to the July docket.’”
The rarity of such a request from an operator, some residents contend, seems to signal Ursa’s attempt to speed up what should be a careful review by state regulators.
“I think this is abnormal behavior for operators to pressure the regulators to come up with a decision before they’re ready to,” said Dave Devanney, co-chair of the Battlement Concerned Citizens, a group that has argued against the proposed locations. “I don’t know why they would do that — what their motivation would be.”
COGCC director Matt Lepore said he is aware of only two other instances in which an operator actually requested a hearing.
“It’s very unusual, almost unheard of, for an operator to request a hearing on the permit,” he said, though any operator has the right to do so.
Simply requesting a hearing date does not equate to a set date for any decision, and COGCC staff could make a recommendation prior to then.
“We, again, are just going to continue to work with Ursa and all of the other stakeholders in due course and see if we can reach an end point without having a hearing,” Lepore said. “But if we don’t then we’ll go have a hearing and that’s fine.”
Adding to residents’ concern is a recent assertion from COGCC that for five days last December Ursa violated rules for mitigating odors, which emanated from existing operations outside the PUD.
The reports also assert that for eight days, spanning most of the same time period, Ursa failed to “keep all valves, pipes and fittings securely fastened and in good mechanical condition” — another rule violation.
In response to the complaints in December, Ursa installed “new and adequately sized hatches on tanks” at three facilities outside of the PUD, according to documents.
As part of a settlement drafted by COGCC’s hearings staff in April, the state calculated a $36,000 penalty.
Simpson said Ursa is working with COGCC on the matter.
The violations, Devanney said, should indicate that Ursa does not employ best management practices in its current operations, and COGCC should take that into consideration when evaluating the applications to drill inside the PUD.
“We hope that the COGCC will look at Ursa as an operator who has demonstrated in the past that they did not use the best management practices to control odors. … We’re hoping that the COGCC is taking all these factors into consideration,” Devanney said.
After questioning the origins of the complaint that led to the COGCC inspection and ensuing findings, Simpson said Ursa continually works to implement the best possible mitigation measures for odor and other impacts.
“We constantly make adjustments to our operations to lessen impacts including odor and other things — noise and what not,” he said, “so there’s not a guarantee, but we certainly try to mitigate it the best we can.”
Under the most recent rule revisions stemming from the Governor’s Oil and Gas Task Force, an operator can request a hearing 75 days following a determination that the application is complete if the proposal is not a large facility in an urban mitigation area.
That period extends to 90 days and includes a necessity to meet one of three different scenarios if the proposal meets the new criteria for a large facility within an urban mitigation area.
Ursa filed its request for a hearing two days after the 90-day time frame.
“We don’t want to rush (COGCC) but we don’t want them to not … make constructive advancement on the permits,” Simpson said, adding that the request was not adversarial.
Lepore does not agree with the insinuation that COGCC failed to make constructive advancements.
While COGCC has long made an effort to evaluate applications as efficiently as possible, according to Lepore, several developments in the past several years have fueled lengthier consideration periods.
The first change is larger proposed operations near more populated areas, and the second s an expanded opportunity for residents, local governments and state agencies, such as the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, to weigh in.
More comments require more staff time to read the comments, communicate with the operator and potentially respond to the comments in some form.
In the case of the Ursa permits, there has been a great deal of public attention and comments. Garfield County and CDPHE have weighed in as well.
“I will just say that in my opinion staff at COGCC has diligently attended to the permit process here and that Ursa perhaps misunderstands the distinction between going through the county permitting process — that does not give them a free pass on the COGCC process, as much as they might wish that were the case.”
Ursa’s hearing request opened the door for Battlement Concerned Citizens and the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance, another citizen group that has advocated for alternative pad locations and more stringent mitigation measures, to request intervener status at the hearing. If granted by COGCC, the status would allow the groups to participate in the hearing.
“This is a case where industry … has asked for a hearing on their application and I’m sure that there are a lot of citizens that would like an opportunity to voice their concerns to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission,” said Matt Sura, an attorney representing the groups.
No injection well RIGHT AWAY
Garfield County commissioners in December unanimously approved Ursa’s plans to drill within the PUD, along with a litany of conditions that Ursa must meet. The approval encompassed Ursa’s first phase for development, which includes the two well pads and 2.5 miles of pipeline.
However, an injection well listed in Ursa’s state applications was not approved at the county level.
In its review of Ursa’s state applications, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment recommended denial of the injection well due to “a significant contamination risk to the public water supply for Battlement Mesa.”
Ursa has since pulled its drilling permit for the injection well. However, it is still included in Ursa’s overall land assessment for the well pad because Ursa is obligated to include any potential plans for the pad, according to Simpson.
“You’re supposed to show everything you could have on the pad on the form 2A and so we wanted to leave (the injection well) on there as a placeholder for later, if we should seek to do an injection well,” he said.
If Ursa were to pursue an injection well it would have to go through the county and state permitting processes.
Regarding the applications for the two well pads in the PUD, both Simpson and Lepore said progress has been made in the past several weeks. If it continues, a decision could be reached prior to the July hearing date.
“I feel like in the past few weeks there’s been good progress made by both Ursa in terms of responding to what COGCC has asked them for and I think clearly, in my opinion, the process is definitely moving forward,” Lepore said. “And if it continues to move forward in the next few weeks as it has in the past few weeks I would think we would be in a position to make a recommendation on the applications prior to the hearing.”
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