Battlement residents lobby for protection |

Battlement residents lobby for protection

Greeley Tribune and Post Independent Staff
This natural gas drilling site is just outside the Battlement Mesa PUD, with sound walls erected on three sides to reduce noise for residents.
Randy Essex / Post Independent |

DENVER — Battlement Mesa residents and their allies were among those appearing earlier this week before the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to criticize rules it is considering that are intended to give regulators and local governments more say in the location of large oil and gas facilities.

The COGCC is working to implement rules suggested by the Governor’s Oil and Gas Task Force — which met for six months last year — to come up with ways to regulate oil and gas activities to avoid pending ballot initiatives that would have mandated as much as 2,000-foot setbacks on oil and gas activity from urban areas.

The task force came out with several rules, two of which needed formal rulemaking hearings with the COGCC. The rules are No. 17, which defines the size of oil and gas storage facilities that could be located near residential areas, and No. 20, which requires the oil and gas industry to register with local governments and for companies to reveal their five-year drilling plans in those local areas.

In Battlement Mesa, a residential area adjacent to Parachute in unincorporated Garfield County, Ursa Resources has proposed setting up well pads within the planned unit development. Many residents, who have lived with gas operations adjacent to the PUD, say the plan will wreck their quality of life on top of their already damaged property values, and they feel slighted by the proposed rule that they feel is geared toward the more populous Front Range.

“Battlement Mesa is a covenant-controlled community, and wells do not belong inside it. The same covenants should apply to anyone doing business inside the community. If wells are inside the Mesa PUD, foul smells should equal large fines, and loud noises should equal large fines.”Bob RobertsonBattlement Mesa resident

Battlement Mesa resident Bob Robertson said Monday he and his wife thought they were getting “the Colorado dream” when they bought their home — “beautiful sights, quiet, peaceful living in a convenant-controlled community.”

“Then almost three years ago, a Monument well pad went in just outside the PUD, one-fourth mile from our home.” It brought “horrible smells that force us to go inside and turn off our swamp coolers, loud noises, so we can’t carry on conversation with neighbors and friends. When we made calls to Ursa about our complaints, they said, ‘We’re sorry, we’ll get that fixed. We have a new truck driver who parked the wrong way, we‘ll add a couple bales of hay’ … or ‘Oops, gas escaped from a valve.’” Whatever happens, the operators don’t get even a slap on the wrist, he said.

“Now, Ursa wants to drill 197 wells inside the PUD, 53 in phase one. I can get a fine if I leave a garbage can out too long … or if I play music too loud. … Battlement Mesa is a covenant-controlled community, and wells do not belong inside it. The same covenants should apply to anyone doing business inside the community. If wells are inside the Mesa PUD, foul smells should equal large fines, and loud noises should equal large fines.”

Don Simpson, Ursa’s vice president for business development, said Battlement Mesa wasn’t set up as retirement community. Exxon, when it hoped to extract oil shale, built the development for workers, then sold surface rights when it abandoned the area. Today Battlement Mesa residents are primarily industry employees, he said.

He said Ursa has worked hard to communicate with residents why it is seeking to drill from within the PUD, and they will continue to have an opportunity for input as the company seeks a special permit from the Garfield County Commission that’s required within Battlement Mesa, unlike much of the rest of the county, and then seeks state approval.

Ursa’s specific plans weren’t before the commission, but it is a flashpoint that residents and activists see as relevant to the rulemaking process.

Emily Hornback, a community organizer with the Western Colorado Congress, told the commission that “whatever comes out of this rulemaking is … critically important to the otherwise-unrepresented adjacent landowners who have been fighting for some sort of legal standing before the COGCC for 30 years.”

“The new rules for large-scale facilities cannot only apply to people living in” urban mitigation areas.

Hornback, speaking on behalf of Leslie Robinson, chair of the Grand Valley Citizen’s Alliance, who was ill and could not attend the hearing, said, “Battlement Mesa is a prime example of how the issue of ‘residential drilling,’ as it has come to be recognized, is not a solely a Front Range issue. Here is a planned housing development in Garfield County that is bumping up against large-scale natural gas development, with the same conflicts and problems as in Greeley and Windsor, etc.

“With 197 wells being drilled in and around their community, their story is pretty comparable to anything that is happening out here. However, depending on where a plat maybe be placed, parts of Battlement Mesa would not meet the [urban mitigation area] definition.”

She said “the commission has a unique opportunity to make some small but common-sense changes to the regulations of this industry that will have real benefits for our members and people living next to O&G development across the state.”

Among those changes would be creating a definition for a large-scale facility within 1,500 feet of a building unit “with the same triggers as a large UMA facility.”

“A definition that stops at the boundary of an urban mitigation area is a blunt instrument,” Hornback said. “Worse than being a blunt instrument, it’ll be like having the world’s smallest sledgehammer in your toolbox. You’re not going to fix many problems with that tool.

“UMA fails to account for people and solely counts the number of buildings within 1,000 feet. And it doesn’t even do that well. A residential building unit could be a single-family home, a duplex, a triplex, condominium, an apartment building with 100 people (which is the case in Battlement Mesa). You have no idea how many people live within a UMA. This rule needs to be crafted in a manner to protect the health and safety of people, not buildings.”

On Tuesday, the second day of a rule-making hearing, the state’s oil and gas regulatory body heard testimony from dozens more hoping to mold the new rules. The commission likely won’t make a decision until mid-December.

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