Commission continues hearing on Ursa applications
After more than five hours of history, explanations, recommendations and a flurry of public comment largely condemning the project, the Garfield County Planning Commission moved Sept. 23 to continue its public hearing on plans by Ursa Resources to drill within the Battlement Mesa Planned Unit Development.
At the start of the meeting, Garfield County Planning Commission Chairman Bob Fullerton told the audience of more than 80 people that the commission would not close the public comment section until the board heard from everyone, and he kept his word. The public comment period was not closed until shortly after 11 p.m. Wednesday.
The commission had the option to either approve, disapprove or continue the hearing on Ursa’s applications for two well pads totaling 53 wells and an application for a 2.5 mile pipeline connecting the two pads and continuing in the PUD.
After a marathon of a meeting, the commission moved to continue the hearing until Oct. 28, in order to digest the abundance of information presented Wednesday. There will be no public comment at that meeting.
In considering the application, county staff has to consider both the legal rights of the mineral right owners as well as certain privileges and legal rights of property owners, said Fred Jarman, Garfield County community development director.
County staff recommended that the commission consider approving the application with a series of recommendations, largely connected to a non-binding health impact originally sponsored by the county when Antero held the lease for the mineral rights.
Among some of the more considerable recommendations to consider, Jarman said, is up and down gradient water monitoring wells at the B Pad, which is located approximately 400 feet from the Colorado River and approximately 615 feet from Battlement Mesa’s water intake system on the river. While the monitoring wells — which would allow for quicker detection of groundwater issues — is no small undertaking, the county believes it is important enough to merit conversation, Jarman explained.
Although the county defers to the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission for noise regulations, the county recommendations included a suggestion that Ursa confine its noise to 70 decibels during the completion stage — the stage that involves fracking. Typically the COGCC would allow 80 decibels during completion, but COGCC informed the county that if it requests 70 decibels during completion the state commission would honor that, Jarman said.
Repeating information shared during a site visit with the planning commission on Tuesday, Matt Honeycutt, operations superintendent with Ursa, stated that the operator is conducting noise studies specific to both pads proposed in the PUD. Additionally, Ursa is participating in technical review of noise policies and issues being leg by the COGCC.
The commission heard three hours of background from the operator and recommendations from county staff, the public comment portion of the meeting around 9:30 p.m., at which point a flurry of testimony, largely condemning the project, was presented to the commission.
By 10:50 p.m., 25 people had either commented or ceded their three minutes to somebody else. Of those, 22 were against the project and most of them identified as Battlement Mesa residents who echoed concerns about health concerns stemming from odors and noises. Others repeated claims that they had not been informed that drilling would happen in the PUD when they bought their property.
“I don’t want to live in light industrial,” said Dave Devanney, chair of the Battlement Mesa Concerned Citizens.
David Ludlam, executive director for the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association, was one of the few who spoke in favor of the proposal. In the six years Ludlam has served in his role with the trade association, no operator has gone to the extent that Ursa has to engage the community, he said.
Ludlam also speculated that some in attendance were present to make a spectacle with hopes of drawing negative coverage from the “press corps.”
“I think that Ursa can hold their head high because they’re doing the right thing,” Ludlam said.
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A continued decline in natural gas industry activity in Garfield County resulted in fewer members and fewer complaints from residents over the past year for Community Counts Colorado.