By Emily Hornback, WCC Organizer
After years of battling with oil and gas companies, Battlement Concerned Citizens (BCC) were encouraged in early February when Battlement Mesa Company withdrew its proposal to create a wastewater injection well zone in the community.
As originally proposed to the Garfield County Planning & Zoning Commission, this new zone would have cleared the way for Ursa Resources, which has been developing 53 natural gas wells inside the community, to build an injection well within several hundred feet of the community’s drinking water supply.
Under mounting resistance spearheaded by BCC, the applicants feared a complete rejection of the proposal. In early February, they asked the planning commission for a continuance of its meeting so they could make adjustments to the proposal and resubmit it for future discussion.
The revised application, which the planning commission considered at it’s March 8 meeting, cut the zone area in half and completely removed the water intake area from consideration.
The commission approved the proposal on a 5-2 vote with several conditions. In addition, new language stipulates the zone will only contain one injection well on one state-approved natural gas pad within the new zoning area.
The proposal must now be heard before the Garfield Board of County Commissioners for final approval.
It’s still one well too many
BCC a committee of WCC’s community group Grand Valley Citizens Alliance (GVCA), has made it clear in its comments to Garfield County that the group will not accept injection wells anywhere in the PUD boundaries and are prepared to defend that position before the BOCC.
“Even people in support of natural gas development know that injection wells and wastewater disposal are dangerous,” said Leslie Robinson, chair of the GVCA. “A line must be drawn somewhere and toxic wastewater injection wells don’t belong in neighborhoods. It was clear Ursa had crossed that line when they tried to put it so close to the drinking water supply.”
Although we were able to protect Battlement Mesa’s drinking water, the issue of oil and gas wastewater remains an issue across the Western Slope. As with oil and gas drilling and production, many activities associated with wastewater handling and disposal are considered a “use by right,” subject to little or no land use planning review. There are currently hundreds of wastewater storage pits and injection wells across Northwest Colorado.
This is problematic because wastewater disposal is not an issue of mineral property rights and should not be treated with the same deference as oil and gas wells. It is a huge public health risk, as wastewater from oil and gas development is highly toxic — full of fracking chemicals, low level radioactive material, and petrochemicals.
The struggle in Battlement Mesa is representative of the struggle many Colorado communities face when dealing with the oil and gas industry. Residents deserve to have a voice in decisions that could threaten their communities.
WCC will continue to work with Battlement Mesa and other impacted communities across the state to ensure the industry cannot run roughshod over basic land-use planning and public process.
WCC’s Gasfield Justice program is been made possible by grants from the Frack Fund, the 11th Hour Project.