Regulators hear pro, con comments on Ursa plans
State regulators heard a flurry of comments Tuesday in Glenwood Springs pitting people’s livelihoods against health and safety concerns.
At the center of the concerns are plans by Ursa Resources, which was assessed a $20,625 penalty Tuesday for several violations, to drill two pads totaling more than 50 wells inside the Battlement Mesa community.
Although hearings before the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission on the applications were continued in late June to August — and one of those hearings will no longer happen following last week’s approval of Ursa’s 28-well pad — 24 people spoke before COGCC, with some offering support for Ursa and others condemning the proximity of industrial operations to homes.
Jeremy Celayeta with TLC Pipeline Construction in Parachute said the company has hired 15-20 employees just because of Ursa. Community members have every right to be concerned, and Celayeta believes Ursa has proactively addressed those concerns.
He and other contractors, noting the number of workers employed by the oil and gas industry, gave Ursa high marks for exemplifying what David Ludlam, executive director of West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association, called “the West Slope way,” a saying by industry supporters meant to encapsulate a proactive approach to operational challenges and community collaboration.
Aside from meetings and other outreach efforts, Ludlam pointed to the conditions of approval that came out of the Garfield County special use permitting process. Many of those were included in the COGCC’s approval last week of one of the two well pads Ursa plans to drill.
Those conditions and practices will make Ursa’s facilities some of the most conditioned and regulated in Colorado, Ludlam said.
“We hope earnestly that the commissioners keep in mind Ursa’s community efforts that have embodied really what we call ‘the West Slope way.’”
The remarks from industry supporters did little to calm Karen Knupp, a Battlement Mesa resident who spoke with a shaky voice while attempting to hold back tears.
Knupp filed complaints with the COGCC in December concerning odors. Ursa attempted to remedy the situation and installed new equipment at three of its locations surrounding Battlement Mesa within days of the complaint.
While inspecting Ursa sites that same month, COGCC staff found leaks from the production tanks on Ursa’s Yater and Monument Ridge pads. They also found open hatches on condensate tanks on the Watson Ranch B pad and observed that “Ursa did not have any equipment present to control odors produced by the storage tanks at the Watson Ranch B Pad,” according to a list of findings.
COGCC concluded Ursa was in minor violation of the rules, but showed no pattern of violation and no gross negligence or knowing and willful misconduct.
The violations and ensuing discussions between the state and Ursa led to the $20,625 penalty approved by COGCC Tuesday.
Speaking outside the meeting, Don Simpson, vice president of business development for Ursa, said the Knupps account for 90 percent of the complaints Ursa receives in the area, adding that there are more than 127 homes between the Knupps and the nearest pad.
Knupp recently filed a complaint on July 12 and 13, according to COGCC records. Nausea caused by odors forced Knupp to leave her home just before 2 a.m., according to one of the complaints.
Knupp shared the experience during her comments Tuesday and said that Ursa has labeled her a “chronic complainer.”
“Yes, we are chronic complainers, with reason,” she said before asking the commission how they would feel if they had to leave their home in the middle of the night.
Given the problems with noise and other impacts stemming from oil and gas development just outside Battlement Mesa in recent years, there are critical concerns about bringing that same development in the community, said Betsy Leonard, another resident. Leonard said she has no confidence that Ursa will be able to mitigate those problems once it starts drilling in the community.
Others pointed to specific concerns with Ursa’s B pad, which regulators continue to review. Of particular concern is the pad’s location upstream from the Battlement Mesa water intake system that pulls water from the Colorado River, which is within 400 feet of the proposed pad location.
“Mistakes are made,” Ben Tipton, a longtime and former water treatment plant operator for the city of Glenwood Springs, said while questioning the pad’s proximity to the river and water infrastructure.
For some, the events in Battlement Mesa are indicative of the state’s approach to oil and gas development.
“To affirm their record of approving over 99 percent of drilling permit applications, it looks like the COGCC intends to continue the practice, even in residential communities where sites have multiple liabilities,” Doug Saxton, co-chair of Battlement Concerned Citizens, wrote in prepared remarks delivered at a press conference Tuesday. “Apparently, inherently bad locations will not be treated as such when it comes to permitting.”
COGCC staff is still reviewing the applications for Ursa’s other well pad, director Matt Lepore said Tuesday. A decision could be reached prior to the continued hearing date in August or it may not.
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Garfield County is seeking to qualify its four west-end communities for Colorado’s Rural Jump Start program, providing tax breaks for new businesses.