Boulder County adopts new oil and gas regulations

From KUNC (Jackie Fortier):

The county calls them the “most restrictive” of such regulations in Colorado. They are about 60 pages and require a much higher environmental and public health standard than the state. Boulder County began the new rule process following two state Supreme Court decisions in 2016 that invalidated hydraulic fracking bans or long term moratoriums.

“In light of those decisions, the board terminated our moratorium that was in effect until 2018, and established a new moratorium until May 1, 2017, for the purpose of allowing us [Boulder County planning department] to update the regulations that we had adopted in 2012 and prepare for their implementation,” said Kim Sanchez, chief planner for the county.

Now that the commissioners have adopted these regulations, here are three key takeaways:

These regulations are ‘the most restrictive’ in Colorado

Boulder County wants to push the envelope. For example, an oil or gas company that wants to drill in unincorporated Boulder County would have to give notice to surrounding landowners and residents, have multiple public meetings, and do soil and water testing, which could be a very long and probably more expensive process than anywhere else in Colorado. State officials told Boulder County it is overstepping their local authority, a position that Commissioner Elise Jones said they would defend.

“Our focus is on adopting regulations that we think are the strongest possible, for our citizens and the environment, and our understanding of the law as we see it,” she said. “If the state disagrees well, so be it, we’ll deal with that. If the state wants to pre-empt local governments, on oil and gas then they need to do their job and protect us from the impacts of oil and gas, and they are not doing that. And until they do that, local jurisdictions like Boulder County will continue to push to do that work themselves.”

What can the state regulate and what can local governments like Boulder County regulate?

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission regulates location and construction of drill sites and associated equipment, for example what machinery is used. Local governments like Boulder County have substantial regulatory authority through their land use code, such as building permits for structures, traffic impact fees, and inspecting for compliance with local codes and standards related to water quality and wildlife impacts. Boulder County’s new regulations are the most stringent in terms of land use.

You could get paid to live by oil and gas drilling

One of Boulder County’s regulations could require a company to pay residents “disruption payments.” Not every company would have to do this; it’s an option for the county to require. Within a mile radius of the drill site, companies would need to pay residents enough money to move and pay rent somewhere else during some operations. The closer you are to the drill site, the more money you would get. The amount would be calculated based on federal data for the area. Every month residents would get a check. It would be up to them if they would want to move temporarily or just keep the money.

Commissioner Jones said they thought disruption payments were necessary to include.

“Industry has never been required to say ‘Yes, I’m impacting those people’s lives and I’m going to pay to help move them to a place so their quality of life isn’t diminished by my noise and my dust and my vibrations and my emissions,’ Jones said. “We think that it’s an important first step in industry taking ownership of the significant impacts that drilling has, particularly when you’re drilling near homes and schools and the like.”

The American West from the air — @publicbooks @EcoFlight

From Public Books (Laura Pritchett):

I recently found myself 1,500 feet above ground, traveling at 180 mph. When I wiped away the breath-mist from the window, I could see the American West in the chill of November: snowy mountain ranges, high alpine, high desert, waves of blue mountains, the shocking red rocks of Utah, the undulations of landscape as it bore out its transformation from range to basin and back again. If I peered closer, the details revealed themselves: the way snow had blown itself into watersheds, the paths I’d hiked winding up mountains, the glint on the curves of some of the nation’s best cutthroat trout streams.

I also saw the unbeautiful: spiderwebs of fracking roads, missing mountainsides, uranium mines, orange ponds for storing tailings and dust, stands of felled trees, the white puffs and yellow haze from coal-fired power plants.

My ticket to this view was a program called “Flight Across America,” which gives college-age and early professional folks the chance to see the West from the air. It’s a program of EcoFlight, a nonprofit dedicated to advocating for environmental issues from the air. Ecoflight was started by Bruce Gordon (good friend to the late John Denver, another pilot-conservationist) 13 years ago; since then, EcoFlight has flown politicians, conservation groups, media, scientists, and celebrities.

In three small Cessnas, we took off from little airports in Colorado, Utah, New Mexico: Grand Junction, Farmington, Cortez, Durango, Moab, Walden. We crammed into these 1970s-era planes with recording gear and notebooks and cameras, with hats and gloves, with headsets for communicating both within the plane and to the other planes, and with curiosity.

Below, we saw Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Wyoming; saw the Navajo nation, site of the most polluting coal-fired power plant in the United States; saw the West’s many rivers and diversions; saw the Roan Plateau of western Colorado, a major drilling site. We flew over the proposed Hermosa Wilderness Area in southern Colorado; we camped in freezing temperatures at the Hovenweep National Monument near the ruins of the ancestral Pueblo; we hiked in the heat of Moab and in a blizzard at the Maroon Bells. We also met with an array of experts representing Colorado’s politicians, ranchers, mountain bikers, conservationists, and photographers.

The amount of information we absorbed from our pilots and guest speakers was immense. But perhaps the most important discovery—for those of us who hadn’t flown like this before—was the simple but essential confirmation that the landscape is a whole. Despite the state lines, designations, management agencies, political jurisdictions, and roads, the planet Earth is the planet Earth, a continuous entity. As the snowy peaks morphed into plateaus and into high desert, it was clear that the natural world does not segment or cut herself up at all…

Every day, we witnessed yet more instances of ecological and political interconnectedness; each night, the students would gather around and discuss the questions these examples raised: How can we see the West as a whole, and act accordingly? And how does one action influence others? Indeed, was this very trip culpable in some way? Was using up fuel to see these areas worth it? When I posed that question to Bruce Gordon, the program founder, he said, “That’s always a tough question, but we do our best to offset our carbon footprint as much as possible through various carbon savings in other areas. We work diligently to minimize flight times. We ensure that on each and every mission the value added of empowering our passenger participants and the subsequent outreach is worth the cost in adding to a carbon footprint. We aren’t against oil and gas, but we feel it can and should be done properly, and there are some places it just shouldn’t be done.

Rangely: Oil spill clean up by Chevron

White River via Wikimedia

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Cleanup is continuing and Chevron and authorities are looking into the cause of a pipeline leak outside the Rangely area in which more than 4,800 gallons of oil spilled into a dry drainage.

The leak was discovered March 5 by Chevron personnel in a drainage leading to Stinking Water Creek, and the line was shut off following the discovery.

Two ducks, two other birds and three mice died as a result of the spill.

The incident occurred on Bureau of Land Management land. BLM spokesman David Boyd said the spill initially was estimated at 1,200 barrels, or more than 50,000 gallons. But Erika Conner, spokeperson for Chevron Pipe Line Co., says early reports included recovered barrels of oil combined with snowmelt.

Boyd said the spill involved a 6-inch-diameter oil gathering pipeline.

Todd Hartman, a spokesman for the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, said the oil traveled about 30 feet to an unnamed drainage, then flowed to another drainage, covering about two miles altogether in heavily vegetated terrain.

It stopped at a stormwater siphon about 1.5 miles west of Stinking Water Creek, he said.

He said the failed section of pipe has been sent off for analysis.

Richard Mylott, a spokesman for the Environmental Protection Agency, said that Chevron “had previously installed berms and siphon dams in the unnamed draw as a prevention/preparedness measure for any spills.”

“… Cleanup is ongoing. Crews have vacuumed oil from behind the siphon dam and are currently removing contaminated soils, flushing oil from pockets and steep ditches,” he said.

Both Mylott and Conner said no water was impacted by the spill.

Conner also said there were no public health concerns.</blockquote

Senate confirms Zinke as Interior Secretary

Arizona Water News

The new Zinke team, including appointments to Bureau of Reclamation, will need to learn quickly about the complexities of Colorado River water law and the drought-induced woes facing Lake Mead

zinke-confirmation-photo

By a comfortable 68-31 margin, the U.S. Senate today confirmed President Trump’s nominee for Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke.

The former Montana member of Congress will head a department that manages around 500 million acres of land and waterways in the United States.

Zinke’s department also includes the federal Bureau of Reclamation, the agency responsible for the system of dams and reservoirs on the Colorado River, the waterway that is integral to the livelihood of 40 million U.S. citizens living in the Southwest.

In a statement declaring his approval of the appointment, Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake said he looked forward to working with Zinke’s department, notably on behalf of Arizona’s Colorado River allotment.

“I was pleased to vote to…

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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.”