Garfield County planning staff urge commissioners to reject Battlement Mesa injection well

Parachute/Battlement Mesa area via the Town of Parachute.
Parachute/Battlement Mesa area via the Town of Parachute.

From the Glenwood Springs Post-Independent (Alex Zorn):

The well location, the staff said, “will have unreasonable adverse effect on the surrounding area, including the safety of the Battlement Mesa Metro District public water supply intake,” which is roughly 600 feet from the area proposed for rezoning.

The well is on the agenda for Wednesday’s Planning Commission meeting, to decide whether to create a new zone district that would allow injection wells in Battlement Mesa under a special use permit.

The zone would be called the “Public Service, Recreation and Injection Well” zone and would set aside 37 acres along the north end of the community by the Colorado River.

Since Ursa Resources owns the mineral rights beneath Battlement Mesa, the company won approval last year from state regulators to develop 53 natural gas wells within the residential boundaries of Battlement Mesa. Injection wells, though, used to dispose of wastewater from the drilling process, are currently not permitted within Battlement Mesa.

The proposal for changes to the unincorporated area’s zoning map has seen strong opposition from community activist groups throughout Garfield County.

“We’re ecstatic about the staff rejecting the injection well permit application, but we know the members of the Planning Commission and the county commissioners are the real deciders, “ said Leslie Robinson, president of the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance. “The Planning Commission and county commissioners have their own agenda when it comes to oil and gas, so I don’t know how they will lean.”

Robinson said that she remains apprehensive heading into the vote because the county commissioners have consistently voted to approve oil and gas activities over citizen concerns.

“We just don’t know if staff arguments will be strong enough to persuade the Planning Commission, but it was definitely a pleasant surprise,” she added.

The staff report cites comments from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment last February as evidence.

“The proposed location is not well located and safe as reflected in referral comments from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) identifying risks to the Battlement Mesa Metro District public water supply intake,” the staff report states.

The letter has been consistently referenced by opposition of the injection well as the bid has progressed.

“The department believes it creates a significant contamination risk to the public water supply for Battlement Mesa,” the letter said. “The department believes Class II injection wells should not be located in urban mitigation areas.”

Asked about the letter last month, Ursa Vice President of Business Development Don Simpson said he didn’t believe it held much weight because of all the changes the company has made to the proposed well since then. Asked about it again Monday in light of the staff recommendation, Simpson said he believed changes to the proposed pad sufficiently mitigated risk.

“We’re a little surprised [by the staff comments] and intend to have more discussion on our plan, and we’ll see what happens,” he said.

“We’re always looking to improve our project if we can,” he said. “We’re going to talk it out on Wednesday and see if we can come up with a solution.”

The report, which was released late last week by the Garfield County Community Development Department staff, identifies many concerns with the proposed injection well that have been laid out by opposition within Garfield County.

“I wasn’t really surprised by the staff’s decision,” said Dave Devanney of Battlement Concerned Citizens. “In a lot of ways it’s a common sense decision because you just don’t put waste removal within a community.

“I’m just happy that they have taken this position and hope it will be taken into consideration by the county commissioners,” he added. “I’ve been doing this enough that I never get too confident.”

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Ursa Resources has begun the process for seeking approvals to drill 74 oil and gas wells from three pads in a second phase of drilling in the community of Battlement Mesa, while also hitting new resistance to its hopes of operating a wastewater injection well from a previously approved pad near the Colorado River.

Garfield County commissioners on Monday agreed to invoke its rights under new state rules to consult with Ursa about locations and measures to reduce impacts associated with the three additional pads.

Ursa previously received approval to drill more than 50 wells from two pads in the unincorporated community of several thousand people, but hasn’t yet begun drilling. It’s also hoping to operate the injection well on one of those two pads. But the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, and now Garfield County’s planning staff, have recommended against approval of a zoning change proposal by Battlement Mesa’s developer to allow injection wells on 37 acres, which would take in an approved Ursa pad and a proposed one.

A county planning staff document says Battlement Mesa’s public water intake from the Colorado is 600 feet west of the area proposed for rezoning.

Injection wells also would require approval by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. A CDPHE official recently reiterated to the county its past recommendation against approving an injection well from the approved Ursa pad near the intake because of the threat the well and associated storage tanks would pose to it.

Garfield County’s planning staff pointed to the CDPHE’s concern in urging the county planning commission to recommend to Garfield commissioners that they deny the injection well zoning.

“The proposal will affect in a substantially adverse manner the public interest by creating a risk to the Battlement Mesa Metro District public water supply intake,” the planning staff said in their recommendation.

The planning commission will consider the zoning change Wednesday night.

In a letter to the county, the metro district referenced the CDPHE recommendation that alternative locations for an injection well be analyzed, and said it hadn’t had the chance to conduct an expert evaluation of the potential impacts of an injection well close to the intake.

The county’s oil and gas liaison, Kirby Wynn, recommended that the planning commission give strong consideration to health department comments, and Garfield County Environmental Health also pointed to the potential risks to the water supply and potential benefits of other sites farther away.

Dave Devanney, with Battlement Concerned Citizens, appreciates the position taken by the county planning staff and others. While activists in the community oppose oil and gas development in Battlement Mesa more generally, Devanney said that the idea of pumping wastewater underground near the river and intake “is kind of a line in the sand that they just can’t tolerate.”

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