Garfield County commissioners reassure Battlement Mesa residents
July 7, 2009
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – Residents of Battlement Mesa say they are reassured that Garfield County will make sure they have a say in an energy company’s plans to drill for gas in their neighborhood.
“It felt very good that our position … was affirmed,” said Paul Light, member of the board of Grand Valley Citizens Alliance and one of many residents with concerns about the plans of Antero Resources, which has announced it hopes to build 10 drilling pads and sink as many as 20 wells per pad into the ground beneath the Battlement Mesa community.
The Garfield County commissioners confirmed at a meeting on Monday that the drilling plans, once they materialize formally, will have to go through the modern equivalent of a special use permit review process, involving public meetings and public hearings before the commissioners at least, and perhaps the county planning and zoning commission as well.
The permit requirement is written into the planned unit development approvals for Battlement Mesa, approved by Garfield County originally in 1975 for the Exxon Corp. and its plans to develop oil shale deposits deep in the Piceance Basin. The company built Battlement Mesa originally as housing for its workforce.
Light, who showed up at Monday’s commissioners meeting with a half-dozen or so other Battlement Mesa residents, told the commissioners that when he and his wife moved to the area they “wanted to retire to a quiet place … and it looks like that’s not going to be our future.”
Neighbor after neighbor told of living close to the sites of proposed well pads, and one man said he is a short distance up a hillside from one pad site.
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Noting that the hillside is covered with “tinder-dry cheat grass,” Richard Buchan told the commissioners, “any explosion or spark could set that off” and cause a dangerous wildland fire.
He said the county, and the citizens, need to use the special use permit process as an opportunity to challenge the siting of pads, some of which he said are “ridiculously and dangerously close” to homes and water wells.
“We need to take the position that special use controls over use by right,” he said, referring to the general land-use rule governing gas drilling in Garfield County.
Chuck Hall, president of the Battlement Mesa Services Association, a kind of liaison between residents, the owners of the PUD and the gas companies, said he will be setting up meetings to give residents a chance to hear what the company has to say and to make known their own feelings.
Other topics raised by the neighbors included questions about Antero’s plans to put one drilling pad in a wetlands area; and fears that Antero, and ExxonMobil, which owns the mineral rights and is leasing them to Antero, might ask the county to modify the planned unit development approvals to eliminate the need for special-use reviews.
Several times, county officials said they have received no such applications regarding the PUD, and that even if they did the neighbors would be informed before any decision could be made.
Bill Nelson, who has lived in Battlement Mesa for more than 11 years, said he had “done the math” and figured that he and his neighbors were in for a long siege.
“They’re going to be here at least six or eight years,” Nelson said. “Many, many residents that retired there will not last as long as the drilling does.”
Commissioner John Martin, while sympathizing with the residents, said there will be a “comprehensive drilling plan” worked out between Antero and the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, a state agency, and that Garfield County has little control over such things as the right to drill.
“To tell them (the gas companies) that, ‘No, you can’t develop your minerals … that’s not us,” he told Miller.
But, noted Commissioner Tresi Houpt, the county does have some control over the surface uses of the land in connection with the actual drilling operations, such as the location of drilling pads and “ancillary facilities.”
Planning director Fred Jarman told the commissioners that a special use permit process typically takes around 90 days or more, depending on the issues raised and the number of hearings required.
Speaking after the meeting, Light said he felt that the commissioners had understood the residents’ concerns about the need to safeguard the health and safety of area taxpayers.
“We really want to make that primary,” Light said of the health and safety aspects of the issue. “We are in it for the long haul, and we’re going to go to a lot of meetings.”