This fall, residents of Battlement Mesa reached a mile marker in their ongoing campaign to keep large-scale oil and gas development out of their community. After years of public hearings, comment periods, rallies and more, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission in September gave the green light to Ursa Natural Resources to drill 53 natural gas wells on two pads.
“This decision makes one thing very clear – the COGCC will never say no to operators, even if the location is obviously putting people at risk,” said Doug Saxton, co-chair of Battlement Concerned Citizens. “It seems like the COGCC interprets the rules that say pads need to be ‘as far as possible’ from homes to mean ‘as close as you want.’”
While Battlement Mesa residents didn’t get the decision they were hoping for, they did win 70 precedent-setting conditions of approval from both Garfield County and the COGCC.
From light and noise stipulations to timing restrictions on when drilling can occur, and water and air quality monitoring, the concessions won by Battlement Mesa residents are impressive and no small thing. They will make these the safest pads in Colorado, and will strengthen the position of all other communities in the state seeking to restrict neighborhood drilling.
In facing down one of the most powerful industries in the world, Battlement Concerned Citizens – with organizing support from WCC and its Garfield County chapter, Grand Valley Citizens Alliance – has become an inspiration for other such groups around Colorado.
The hard-won conditions of approval, combined with the recent news that Ursa has withdrawn its proposal to drill within 650 ft. of nearby Grand Valley High School, gives us hope that operators have learned how determined WCC members are and will be in the defense of their homes and environment.
And the fight is far from over. The two approved pads represent only the first of three phases of development, with more proposed pads looming in the future. More immediately, BCC expects Ursa to continue its pursuit of an injection well next to the community’s drinking water supply, despite the opposition of the state health department.
While we await Ursa’s next move, we’ll continue to make common cause with other impacted communities across the state. As with many issues, we wait to see what the new administration might mean for oil and gas regulation and development, although the political landscape at the state level remains much the same.
WCC will continue to support Battlement Concerned Citizens in their fight because we believe it’s the right thing to do. We believe that when a company’s right to drill runs up against people’s right to health and home, the company should be required to move its drilling site.
The fact that our state regulations say in effect that neighborhood drilling is OK is an injustice that must be ended.
Therefore, WCC members are working with ally groups around the state to take the issue to the state legislature, and we’ll continue to pressure the governor to enforce his own agency’s rules.
Leslie Robinson, chair of the Grand Valley Citizen’s Alliance, issued a statement after the September decision:
“We call on Governor Hickenlooper to sit down with citizens that are being incredibly impacted by this industry. We ask the Governor to stand with his Department of Health and Environment that has stated that oil and gas waste injection wells do not belong in neighborhoods or immediately upstream of a community’s water intake.
“Despite this bad decision, we will continue to work for better siting locations,” Robinson continued. “We will keep up our efforts to protect Battlement Mesa’s drinking water supply by preventing a toxic wastewater injection well from being built next to the water intake. We will work with residents and concerned parents of Parachute to challenge the siting of a giant oil and gas industrial site next to the Grand Valley High School. But most of all, we will continue our work for local and state regulations that truly protect the health and well-being of people living with oil and gas development in next to their homes.”
WCC’s gasfield justice work is supported by the 11th Hour Project, the Frack Fund and other funders.