Battlement Mesa: Ursa Resources re-thinking well pad location

Directional drilling from one well site via the National Science Foundation
Directional drilling from one well site via the National Science Foundation

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

The company believes it can do without a pad that would be located adjacent to Battlement Mesa’s golf course.

Cutting the pad would reduce to four the total number of pads Ursa would drill from within the community of several thousand people. Antero Resources earlier had proposed drilling from 10 pads within the community. Ursa, which subsequently bought Antero’s local assets, has worked to cut the number of pads needed, in part through directional drilling from pads outside the residential development’s borders.

Ursa has Garfield County and state approvals to drill from two pads so far in Battlement Mesa and plans to begin drilling this year. It also has begun the process of seeking approvals for additional pads.

Don Simpson, vice president of business development for Ursa, said Ursa will eliminate the pad by the golf course from its plans if it can get approvals for two additional pads it is proposing, and for a wastewater injection well for one of them.

This week, it dropped efforts to obtain approvals for the injection well close to the community’s water intake on the Colorado River. The proximity and the potential for impacts from spills drew objections from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and county planning staff.

Simpson said the pad now proposed is downstream from the water intake and 2,000 feet from the river. He said changing the location probably will mean extra truck traffic for a while because Ursa doesn’t have approval yet and may not be able to begin injecting wastewater until next year. Trucks would have to haul wastewater out of Battlement Mesa in the meantime. Reducing truck traffic is a key reason Ursa wants to have an injection well.

If the injection well is approved, that would be one less reason for Ursa to need the pad near the golf course.

Simpson said the two additional pads Ursa is pursuing are now planned to be larger, which will allow for more wellheads.

“We think this is a big win for everybody except for the people that don’t want you in (Battlement Mesa) regardless of what you do,” he said.

Dave Devanney of the group Battlement Concerned Citizens, said he’s a bit conflicted on how to react to the latest Ursa developments.

“As somebody said recently, name your poison. Do you want truck traffic or do you want injection wells? The citizens of Battlement Mesa don’t want either,” he said.

Meanwhile, Ursa Resources held a meeting with Battlement Mesa residents yesterday. Here’s a report from Alex Zorn writing for The Glenwood Springs Post-Independent. Here’s an excerpt:

The meeting, one of Ursa’s regular sessions with residents, came a day after a zoning change proposed on Ursa’s behalf was withdrawn.

Thursday’s meeting lasted nearly two hours, and Ursa representatives spent nearly the entire time fielding questions from concerned residents.

A conversation that began as an outline for development ended with residents demanding to know if Ursa will leave the community in better shape than they found it.

“Do you see any benefit for the Battlement Mesa citizens from oil and gas?” asked one audience member.

Ursa owns mineral rights under the 5,000-person community and last year won Garfield County and state approval to drill for natural gas inside the Planned Unit Development. Wednesday, a request to place an injection well to dispose of wastewater within the PUD was pulled back after county staff urged rejection.

The state Department of Public Health and Environment earlier urged rejection because the well would be within about 600 feet of the municipal water intake.

The Planning Commission granted a continuance so that Battlement Mesa Partners, which requested the zoning change for Ursa’s natural gas operations, can alter its plan. The hearing was moved to the March 8 Planning Commission meeting.

“The reason for last night’s continuance is to allow us to present all of the changes we’ve made, which will allow us to move the injection well from the BMC B Pad to the BMC A Pad,” Ursa Resources Operations Superintendent Matt Honeycutt said. “We wanted to get it right, and part of that was by talking with many of you.”

Moving the injection well from the B Pad to A Pad will eliminate the threat of any runoff leaking into the Colorado River and contaminating the water supply, he said.

Instead of placing the injection well upriver from the intake, which it would be in the B Pad, Ursa will seek to place the injection well downriver at the BMC A Pad.

Furthermore, he said, shifting focus to the A Pad will eliminate the impact to the area surrounding the B Pad, which will reduce the area of the project by nearly 50 percent. Rather than rezoning 37 acres along the north end of the community by the north end of the Colorado River, the new plan will include closer to 22 acres.

The plan will still be to drill 24 wells in the BMC B Pad, but having an injection well in the community will greatly reduce truck traffic, according to Honeycutt.

Construction will begin for the B Pad on Feb. 21, the company said, with as many as 14 wells to be located there.

Now, 100 wells are in operation out of approximately 200 wells that Ursa plans to drill in Battlement Mesa, though the company has not yet begun to drill within the PUD, representatives said.

Drilling for a pipeline has begun, with 15 of 24 wells already in operation. Drilling is expected to be completed by March 23. Once the drilling is completed there, Ursa will begin drilling at the D Pad.

One resident was frustrated, asking, “Of all of this land, how come you have to do this right here?”

Battlement Mesa: Ursa Resources backs off injection well application

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

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Ursa Resources and the developer of Battlement Mesa have dropped a zoning change proposal necessary for Ursa to pursue…operating a wastewater injection well near the community’s water intake on the Colorado River.

Battlement Mesa Co. is cutting by about half the size of a proposed zone district that would allow injection wells as a special use. The move eliminates the northern portion of what had been a 37-acre proposed district. That northern portion included a well-pad location where Ursa has approvals to drill for natural gas and had hoped to operate the injection well.

The revised zone district proposal still would encompass another location to the southwest where Ursa has begun the process of seeking approvals for an oil and gas pad that also could hold an injection well if local and state approvals are obtained.

The Garfield County Planning Commission was to have considered the original zone district proposal Wednesday night, but instead agreed to consider the revised application March 8.

Ursa had encountered considerable opposition to its original planned location for the injection well, which would have been about 600 feet from the water intake.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment had objected to that location because of concerns that leaks from the well and associated storage tanks could threaten the water supply. That agency’s opposition was a primary factor in Garfield County planning staff also recommending that the Planning Commission and county commissioners reject the zoning change.

On Tuesday, Kent Kuster, an environmental specialist for CDPHE, wrote to the county that in a recent meeting with Ursa representatives his agency was made aware of an alternative injection well location to the west of Ursa’s originally envisioned site. Kuster wrote that the potential location would “reduce the associated risk to the public water supply,” is more protective of that supply and may warrant further local discussion.

Battlement Mesa is an unincorporated community of several thousand people. Dave Devanney of Battlement Concerned Citizens said the group’s members don’t want an injection well anywhere within Battlement Mesa. But the group had been particularly alarmed by the idea of an injection well in the vicinity of the water intake.

In a news release Wednesday, Devanney called the change in Ursa’s plans a victory for residents.

“It was clear that public opinion was against the idea of creating an injection well zone in our community, especially one so close to our drinking water supply,” Devanney said. “Although we may see this proposal resurface in another form, tonight residents of Battlement Mesa can take comfort knowing their water is safe — for now.”

[…]

Matt Honeycutt, Ursa’s operations superintendent, declined to say much Wednesday night about the revision in the injection well plans.

“Ultimately it’s to make a better project,” he said.

Don Simpson, Ursa’s vice president of business development, said earlier Wednesday, “We think we’ve come up with a better plan. We’re always looking at different locations, better locations.”

Eric Schmela, president of Battlement Mesa Co., which as the landowner is the applicant for the zoning change, said a number of considerations played into its decision to revise its proposal, from public input, to its own research and additional due diligence.

One member of the Planning Commission, Greg McKennis, sought unsuccessfully Wednesday night to postpone further consideration of the zoning application for 60 to 90 days to give Battlement Mesa residents a chance to fully learn what’s now being proposed and be able to better comment on it.

“This is a big change and we have no idea what those impacts will be,” he said. “… It’s vital that that community … has more than a couple weeks to do what they need to do to review this,” he said.

However, the applicants had a right to request another hearing sooner unless they waived it, which they weren’t willing to do.

“This timing becomes critical down the road to remove trucks off the road for our development plan,” Honeycutt told the commission.

Ursa says having an injection well will eliminate the need to truck away wastewater from drilling. It currently has approvals to drill more than 50 wells from two pads in Battlement Mesa and now is seeking approvals for three more well pads there.

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

Battlement Mesa Partners, requesting the zoning change for Ursa Resources’ natural gas operations, asked commissioners before a packed hearing room for time to amend the proposal…

The hearing was moved to the March 8 Planning Commission meeting. The Planning Commission staff last week recommended rejecting the proposal in large part because it is close to the community’s water intake.

“I think it would be in the board’s best interest to allow for a continuance so that we can make changes to our application,” said Eric Schmela, president of Battlement Mesa Co. “A continuance would allow us to bring you more complete information on the request.”

Among the biggest changes would be to change the size of the area requested for rezoning to allow wells to dispose of wastewater from the fracking process. Drilling within the Planned Unit Development already has been approved by Garfield County and the state.

According to Schmela, the revised application will reduce the area of the project by nearly half. The previous proposal sought to rezone 37 acres along the north end of the community by the Colorado River. An updated application will reduce that area by 50 percent, stated Schmela.

Not only will the new application reduce the size of the injection zone, but it will also move the well away from the Colorado River and water treatment intake.

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.”

Battlement Mesa: Boring for water pipeline encounters high groundwater flows

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

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinal (Dennis Webb):

Summit Midstream ran into the problem Jan. 18 after it had nearly completed horizontally drilling a pilot bore for a water pipeline that will connect two Ursa well pads in Battlement Mesa, an unincorporated residential community of several thousand residents. A contractor for Summit struck a spring about 55 feet underground and water began gushing at estimated rates of as much as 294,000 gallons a day.

The incident initially forced the company to operate trucks 24 hours a day and to do work on a Sunday as it hauled off the water. That prompted several residents affected by the traffic to file complaints with the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission and Garfield County. A county approval condition for the pipeline project generally limits construction operations to 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Mondays through Saturdays. But it allows for Sunday work if field conditions or inclement weather make it necessary.

On Jan. 25, Summit obtained a permit from the state Water Quality Control Division to discharge water from the flow into the Colorado River so it didn’t have to keep trucking away the water.

Leonard Mallett, Summit’s chief operations officer, said Tuesday that the flow from the spring has diminished quite a bit. He said the company hoped to pull pipe through the hole on Wednesday, and then inject a slurry grout around the pipe in the week, which should provide a seal and end the groundwater flow.

The water pipeline will allow for movement of hydraulic fracturing fluid and wastewater associated with gas development. Summit also will be installing a parallel natural gas pipeline about 50 feet from the water line. Mallett said it will be routed along a different angle and depth to avoid the spring…

He said the groundwater is being routed into a kind of ditch or waterway on private land to reach the river, and is staying within the banks.

Summit officials said in a written statement to the Daily Sentinel that Summit kept water from reaching the river or any other waters of the state prior to receiving the discharge permit. It says it pursued the permit after testing showed only groundwater was involved.

Lillian Gonzalez, a permit manager for the Water Quality Control Division, said it’s possible to run into groundwater during excavation for any kind of construction project, and to need to remove the water. Options can range from letting it evaporate in a lined pond, to hauling it to a facility that can handle it, to getting a permit to discharge into the waters of the state.

She said the Summit Midstream permit was issued under an assumption that the groundwater isn’t contaminated. That’s based on the fact that there’s no known nearby groundwater contamination in the area.

However, Summit is required to test the water for acidity, oil and grease, and total dissolved and suspended solids, and must limit the discharge to 400 gallons per minute, or 576,000 gallons a day.

Gonzalez said typically the biggest concern with such permits is making sure the suspended solids limit is met because of the loose dirt associated with excavation work. A company may have to filter the water before discharging it, she said…

Battlement Mesa: Folks are fighting injection well application

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

From Aspen Public Radio (Elizabeth Stewart-Severy):

Earlier this month, the contractor Battlement Mesa Partners asked Garfield County to allow zoning for an injection well in a residential neighborhood. Injection wells are used for disposal of wastewater generated from fracking.

Three citizens groups in the area are concerned about protecting the health of the water supply. The Colorado Oil and Gas Commission approved permits for two well pads in the Battlement Mesa neighborhood last fall, but those permits do not include injection wells.

Garfield County is accepting public comment through Thursday, Jan. 26. Comments can be sent to Glen Hartmann at the Garfield County Community Development Department at ghartmann@garfield-county.com. The issue will be heard by the Garfield Planning and Zoning Commission on Feb. 8 at 6 p.m.

@CBCNews: U.S., Canada ban offshore drilling in Arctic waters

Yes, there is still lots of ice in Antarctica, but it's melting faster than ever. bberwyn photo.

From the Associated Press via CBC News:

President Barack Obama on Tuesday designated the bulk of U.S.-owned waters in the Arctic Ocean and certain areas in the Atlantic Ocean as indefinitely off limits to future oil and gas leasing.

The White House announced the actions in conjunction with the government of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, which also placed a moratorium on new oil and gas leasing in its Arctic waters, subject to periodic review.

“Today, President Obama and Prime Minister Trudeau are proud to launch actions ensuring a strong, sustainable and viable Arctic economy and ecosystem, with low-impact shipping, science based management of marine resources, and free from the future risks of offshore oil and gas activity,” the statement read.

The move helps put some finishing touches on Obama’s environmental legacy while also testing president-elect Donald Trump’s promise to unleash the nation’s untapped energy reserves.

Obama is making use of an arcane provision in a 1953 law to ban offshore leases in the waters permanently. The statute says that “the president of the United States may, from time to time, withdraw from disposition any of the unleased lands of the outer Continental Shelf.”

Environmental groups hope the ban, despite relying on executive powers, will be difficult for future presidents to reverse. The White House said it’s confident the president’s directive will withstand legal challenge and said the language of the statute provides no authority for subsequent presidents to “unwithdraw” waters from future lease sales.

The Atlantic waters placed off limits to new oil and gas leasing, which hold the volume equivalent of 31 Grand Canyons, stretches off the coast of New England south to Virginia.

The administration cited environmental concerns to justify the moratorium. The president also issued a statement noting the minimal level of fuel production occurring in the Arctic. Obama said just 0.1 per cent of offshore crude production came from the Arctic in 2015, and at current oil prices, significant production would not occur in future decades.

“That’s why looking forward, we must continue to focus on economic empowerment for Arctic communities beyond this one sector,” Obama said…

In issuing a permanent ban, Obama appears to be trying to tie the hands of his successor. Trump has vowed a domestic energy revolution and is filling his cabinet with nominees deeply opposed to Obama’s environmental and climate change actions.

Environmental groups were calling for a permanent ban even before the presidential election, but Trump’s victory has provided greater urgency for them and for businesses that rely on tourism and fishing. Trump has said he intends to use all available fuel reserves for energy self-sufficiency — and that it’s time to open up offshore drilling.

“This decision will help protect existing lucrative coastal tourism and fishing businesses from offshore drilling, which promises smaller, short-lived returns and threatens coastal livelihoods,” said Jacqueline Savitz, a senior vice-president at the advocacy group, Oceana.

@Colorado_TU: Lessons of the battle over the Roan Plateau

Oil and gas development on the Roan via Airphotona
Oil and gas development on the Roan via Airphotona

Here’s guest column from David Nickum writing in the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

For more than a decade, the battle over Colorado’s Roan Plateau — a beautiful green oasis surrounded by oil and gas development — raged in meetings and in courtrooms. At issue: Would the “drill, baby, drill” approach to public lands carry the day and the path of unrestrained energy development run over one of Colorado’s most valuable wildlife areas? Or would “lock it up” advocates preclude all development of the Roan’s major natural gas reserves?

Luckily, this story has a happy ending — and a lesson for Colorado and other states in the West struggling with how to balance the need for energy development with conservation of public lands and irreplaceable natural resources.

The Bureau of Land Management recently issued its final plan for the Roan Plateau, closing the most valuable habitat on top of the plateau to oil and gas leases. The plan, which will guide management of the area for the next 20 years, also acknowledges the importance of wildlife habitat corridors connecting to winter range at the base of the plateau.

At the same time, the BLM management plan allows responsible development to proceed in less-sensitive areas of the plateau that harbor promising natural gas reserves and can help meet our domestic energy needs.

What happened? After years of acrimony and lawsuits, stakeholders on all side of the issue sat down and hammered out a balanced solution. Everyone won. It’s too bad it took lawsuits and years of impasse to get all sides to do what they could have done early on: Listen to each other. We all could have saved a lot of time, money and tears.

The Roan example is a lesson to remember, as the incoming administration looks at how to tackle the issue of energy development on public lands. There’s a better way, and it’s working in Colorado.

The BLM also this month, incorporating stakeholder input, closed oil and gas leasing in several critical habitat areas in the Thompson Divide — another Colorado last best place — while permitting leasing to go ahead in adjacent areas.

That plan also represents an acknowledgment that some places are too special to drill, while others can be an important part of meeting our energy needs.

And in the South Park area — a vast recreational playground for the Front Range and an important source of drinking water for Denver and the Front Range — the BLM is moving ahead with a Master Leasing Plan (MLP) for the area that would identify, from the outset, both those places and natural resources that need to be protected and the best places for energy leasing to proceed.

We have said that we want federal agencies in charge of public lands to involve local and state stakeholders more closely in land management planning — that perceived disconnect has been the source of criticism and conflict in the West regarding federal oversight of public lands.

The MLP process is a new tool that promises to address some of that top-down, fragmented approach to public land management. To their credit, the BLM is listening and incorporating suggestions from local ranchers, conservation groups and elected officials into their leasing plan for South Park.

This landscape level, “smart from the start” approach is one way for stakeholders to find consensus on commonsense, balanced solutions that allow careful, responsible energy development to occur while protecting our most valuable natural resources.

The lesson I take from the Roan? We can find solutions through respectful dialogue—and we shouldn’t wait for litigation to do so. [ed. emphasis mine] Coloradoans can meet our needs for energy development and for preserving healthy rivers and lands by talking earlier to each other and looking for common ground.

David Nickum is executive director of Colorado Trout Unlimited.

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