Editorial: Protect Battlement Mesa water, reject injection well | PostIndependent.com

Editorial: Protect Battlement Mesa water, reject injection well

We urge the Garfield County Planning Commission, which meets this evening, and then Garfield County commissioners to uphold a staff recommendation to reject a zoning change that would allow injection wells inside the Battlement Mesa residential area.

Ursa Resources, which owns mineral rights under the Battlement Mesa Planned Unit Development — legalese for a place where people live — has won state approval to drill for natural gas from within the PUD. An injection well or wells would be used to dispose of wastewater produced in the process.

Planning Commission staff is clear that it sides with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment in its concern that the area proposed for injection wells is close — about 600 feet — to Battlement Mesa’s municipal water intake.

The staff says, among other things, that “the proposal will have unreasonable adverse effect on the surrounding area, including the safety of the Battlement Mesa Metro District public water intake.”

We do understand that using injection wells reduces the need for truck traffic to haul away wastewater, and truck traffic through a residential area is undesirable. So are natural gas wells, so we’re not talking about whether things will be bad, but just how bad they will be. It’s a debate about choosing the residents’ poison.

We have to side with state health officials, county staffers who examined the application in depth — and with people who live in Battlement Mesa. These folks could use a break and some government support for a change.

Battlement Mesa is a tidy development, with a mix of apartments, some prefab houses, townhouses and neighborhoods of larger, gracious homes. It has one of Colorado’s top public golf courses and a 53,000-square-foot activity center. About 5,000 people live there, many of them employed by energy companies and untroubled by the industrial development around them that also pays their checks.

The development started decades ago as employee housing for Exxon’s effort to develop shale oil in the Piceance Basin. When Exxon pulled out in 1982, it had a nascent neighborhood with infrastructure in place that was a nonperforming asset. Someone came up with the idea of marketing it as a retirement community.

A retirement kit prepared for visitors by the Battlement Mesa Co., which bought surface rights from Exxon in 1989, pictured a fit older couple with bicycles stopping to enjoy the scenic vista. “Winning the battle for beautiful living on a retirement income,” the cover said. Nary a drilling rig was in sight, as remains the case today on the Battlement Mesa Co. website.

Some people who bought homes there, thinking they were going to live a retirement dream, say they were assured that because Battlement Mesa is a covenant-controlled community, no drilling could occur within the Planned Unit Development.

That wasn’t true. When Exxon sold the surface rights, it kept mineral rights and executed a so-called Surface Use Agreement that allowed it to build at least 14 well pads inside the PUD. That agreement wasn’t filed publicly until 1999, and then only in an obscure place, some homeowners contend.

Ursa’s mineral rights are its property just as the homes are property, and government faces the challenge of balancing those rights.

We believe Ursa does what it can to be a good neighbor while still pursuing its business. But its business turns a neighborhood into an industrial zone.

Garfield County, ostensibly to protect the residents while still permitting the natural gas development that provides jobs and is central to county government’s fiscal health, created provisions requiring special use permits for natural gas development in the community.

County officials and Ursa would be quick to say that the permit process has imposed numerous requirements on development, but the residents still face a special kind of hell, living with noise, fumes and the potential for accidents very nearby. And a series of conditions to drill for natural gas just down the street doesn’t do much for property values or peaceful retirement.

We think it’s improper, given the abundance of natural gas in the Piceance Basin and rapid advances in drilling technology, for the county and state to have approved Ursa’s drilling plan. We think the nation, already afloat on a natural gas glut that is depressing prices and job-creating development, just doesn’t need gas extracted from people’s neighborhoods.

Unfortunately, that’s been approved.

At this point, it would be a small concession to those living in the shadow of gas development for the county to stand up for its residents and ensure protection of their water.

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