Battlement group gets OK to participate at hearing

Ryan Hoffman
This well pad, with sound walls on three sides, is adjacent to the Battlement Mesa PUD.
Randy Essex / Post Independent |

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission granted two citizen groups opposed to drilling proposals in Battlement Mesa the right to participate at a July hearing in Glenwood Springs.

The decision is a small victory for Battlement Concerned Citizens and the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance, the two citizen groups, and a defeat for Ursa Resources, the operator seeking approval of its plans to drill up to 53 wells within the Battlement Mesa Planned Unit Development.

“We applaud the COGCC for recognizing the right of impacted people to speak and provide testimony on a project that will drastically impact our lives for many years to come,” Dave Devanney, chair of the Battlement Concerned Citizens, said in a press release.

A statement from Don Simpson, vice president of business development for Ursa, said Ursa respects “the COGCC’s process, as well as the right of the local community to have input into that process.”

Assertions by Ursa that allowing the groups to participate would equate to allowing “politics to trump reality” are “groundless and frivolous,” the hearing officer concluded.

Ursa in April requested the applications be considered for a hearing, a highly rare move by an operator, because, as Simpson told the PI in May, Ursa did not think COGCC was moving fast enough in reviewing its permits at the time.

COGCC staff could make a recommendation prior to the hearing.

The citizens groups in May filed for intervenor status in order to participate in the hearing — a request that Ursa asked COGCC to reject for a range of issues.

Ursa contended the groups lacked standing to participate and were not acting in the public interest, since the groups were able to submit comments to COGCC staff.

Ursa also argued it already went “above and beyond” the requirements in COGCC’s rules.

In its order granting intervenor status, the COGCC hearing officer dismissed Ursa’s arguments, including its claim that COGCC staff, which Ursa argued is an adverse party, could speak for the citizen groups based on comments submitted.

“Commission staff will be representing its own interests, which do not coincide with the interest of BCC and GVCA,” the hearing officer stated in the order.

“Fundamental fairness dictates that BCC and GVCA be allowed to participate in the hearing. Ursa acknowledges that residents of Battlement Mesa will be affected by its operations, including those that live more than 1,000 feet away from the two proposed pads. … It is in the public interest for the commission to hear all sides before deciding whether to approve or deny the Ursa applications.”

Assertions by Ursa that allowing the groups to participate would equate to allowing “politics to trump reality” are “groundless and frivolous,” the hearing officer concluded.

Simpson, in the statement sent Thursday, pointed to Ursa’s outreach efforts since it acquired the assets.

“It’s important to note that we’ve been committed to gathering input from the Battlement Mesa Community since we began operating in the area in 2013. Much of that input has been incorporated into the COGCC permit application, as well as the already approved Garfield County permit applications.”

The COGCC hearing officer did limit the two groups to participating only in the permits concerning location assessment, and not the permits to actually drill.

“Throughout this whole process, we have only asked to be treated equally and to work for the protection and well-being of our community,” Devanney said.

In the statement, Simpson said, “We look forward to the opportunity to discuss our project with the COGCC commissioners and the community next month.”

The hearing is scheduled for July 18-20.

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