Editorial: Promises and loose oversight don’t protect Battlement residents
No sooner do the beleaguered residents of Battlement Mesa get a small win in their David-like fight against natural gas drilling in their neighborhood than we learn that initial prep work fell well short of best management practices and compliance with state rules.
That was the assessment of Greg Deranleau, an environmental manager with the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.
Garfield County and state regulators have approved natural gas drilling from inside the Battlement Mesa Planned Unit Development, a bureaucratic term for the boundaries of a residential area. It will further turn the neighborhood, marketed to many current residents as an idyllic retirement spot, into a noisy, smelly industrial area.
The residents at this point can’t stop the gas development, which already surrounds the area outside the PUD — they can only advocate to make it a little less awful.
With big help from a 2016 letter by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, residents and their allies succeeded in getting Ursa Resources to move a proposed wastewater injection well that would have been upstream and only about 600 feet from the community’s household water intake on the Colorado River.
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Ursa also is backing off of a drilling site proposed for a spot close to the Battlement golf course, which has been a particular sore point with residents.
An injection well for use in the upcoming development still is highly likely to win approval — because that’s what Garfield County and the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission do — but at least the new proposed site is downstream. That new site could “reduce the associated risk to the public water supply,” an environmental specialist for the health department wrote to the county.
Meanwhile, work began last month on a pipeline to serve one of the well pads to be used in drilling. We seriously hope that the care taken in that work and the county’s attitude toward oversight will not prove indicative of how future work is handled.
Back on Jan. 3, Garfield County commissioners were advised that Texas-based Summit Midstream Partners would be taking over the pipeline for which Ursa had been given a permit in October.
Garfield County Planning Manager Tamra Allen told commissioners at the time that, “We are just making sure that Midstream continues upon the obligations and requirements that were placed on Ursa as the initial operator of that pipeline, such as maintaining their operations and mitigation plans, making sure that vegetation bonds are placed in their name, making sure that we have emergency contact information, etc. So mostly administrative types of issues.”
Summit construction manager Cameron Bingham assured commissioners all would be well.
“Summit Midstream has been putting pipelines in the area over the last five years,” he said. “That’s our expertise, that is what we are designed to do, so we partnered with Ursa, and it will be a good relationship for both of us.
“We’ll follow all those rules and regulations as they are very similar to the rules and regulations that we have followed in past projects in Garfield County,” he said.
Deranleau, the COGCC environmental manager, visited the pipeline location later that month.
“COGCC observed improper practices at the … pipeline staging areas that would not be in compliance with COGCC rules, including inadequate topsoil protection, insufficient stormwater management and a lack of effective stormwater controls,” Deranleau wrote in a Jan. 27 letter to Kirby Wynn, the county’s oil and gas liaison.
These rules are in place to protect the land, wildlife and humans. Oil and gas operations inevitably disrupt the land, but the idea is to protect soil and water so, in time, the damage is as minimal as possible.
This is good for everyone because we don’t want denuded earth that allows storms to erode unprotected soil and carry it into streams, we don’t want dust to be easily picked up by winds, we don’t want wildlife habitat shrunken by sloppy practices.
Deranleau noted that because Ursa had not yet taken over the well pad, it was not yet a site falling under COGCC purview.
But, he wrote, “Based on our observations of actions taken by Summit Midstream during their construction activity at the sites, Ursa may have difficulty complying with those rules upon taking possession of the sites.”
He urged the county to refer the matter to the Division of Water Quality within the health department.
We question the vigor with which the county pursued that recommendation.
Wynn first told us last week that the county didn’t contact water quality officials and was working to bring Summit into compliance, which Deranleau also recommended.
Then he told us that the county reached out, but the state said it didn’t have sufficient staff to inspect the site.
Not exactly, the state told us.
Nathan Moore, clean water compliance unit manager, said the division has adequate resources but, “The information that I obtained was that the county believed that the necessary changes were being made.”
In other words, don’t worry, move along, nothing to see here.
We’ve said this before: The county and state regulators need to look out for Battlement residents, not look the other way.
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