- Associated Press - Saturday, April 29, 2017

BATTLEMENT MESA, Colo. (AP) - A rig that has begun drilling some of the first of many natural gas wells Ursa Resources plans to develop in this western Garfield County residential community stands out in the sense that it doesn’t stand out.

Some 50 feet shorter than a typical drilling rig, it nearly hides behind a 32-foot-tall sound wall that Ursa has erected around the pad where it has begun drilling wells at its first Battlement Mesa pad.

“It’s very small. We sometimes call it the riglet,” Hans Wychgram, drilling manager for Ursa, said during a tour the company recently provided to participants in the Energy & Environment Symposium put on by Garfield County and Colorado Mesa University’s Unconventional Energy Center.

Many who attend the annual event are representatives of local governments dealing with oil and gas issues in various parts of Colorado, and the Ursa tour was intended to demonstrate firsthand how companies endeavor to reduce the impacts of drilling in urban areas.

The diminutive rig is just one example of Ursa’s efforts to do that. Its lower profile means it’s less visually imposing to residents, but the benefits go further. A smaller rig requires a smaller footprint, which helped Ursa reduce the size of its pad. And it takes about 30 truck trips to move this rig, about half the number for a typical one, which means less local traffic.

Use of the downsized rig is just one of many measures Ursa is taking to lessen the burden on Battlement Mesa, home to thousands of residents, as Ursa begins the controversial undertaking of drilling there. The long list reflects both actions Ursa volunteered to take and others that Garfield County and the state required of it in exchange for it being able to drill near homes, including a subdivision some 800 or 900 feet away on one side of the pad it’s currently drilling on, and an apartment complex a similar distance away on the other side.

Through efforts such as increased directional drilling beneath Battlement Mesa from outside the community, Ursa has been able to reduce to five, and possibly four, the number of pads it expects to ultimately have to drill from in Battlement Mesa. Antero Resources had expected to need 10 pads in Battlement Mesa but sold its local oil and gas assets to Ursa before starting to drill there.

Lots of public meetings and advance planning preceded the work Ursa is now doing. Installing pipelines ahead of time to handle water will enable it to reduce truck traffic otherwise needed to deal with hydraulic fracturing fluids and water produced from wells.

It currently has county and state approvals to drill dozens of wells from two pads, and expects to soon begin the process of seeking approvals for the remaining pads it plans to drill from in Battlement Mesa. The county required that Ursa’s work on the first two pads be finished within three years for the sake of residents.

“We’re going to beat that by half. We’re going to be in and out of here in a year and a half,” said Don Simpson, an Ursa vice president.

Ursa’s project continues to see opposition from some area residents, who most recently have been fighting its efforts to get authorization for a wastewater injection well within the community. Ursa says that would eliminate truck trips otherwise needed to haul away produced water, while opponents worry about the possibility of groundwater or surface water contamination, or the injection activities causing earthquakes.

Work associated with the company’s Battlement Mesa project also has resulted in some early hiccups, less from the drilling itself than from the associated pipeline project by Summit Midstream. Summit at first encountered problems with heavy groundwater flows while doing horizontal boring for the project, and a small fire later occurred involving grout being used to try to plug the leak. That concerned some residents because the grout is considered highly toxic when it catches fire.

Near the end of April, Simpson said the drilling operation has undergone state and county inspections that have resulted in no citations against Ursa. He said there also have been no noise or dust complaints made, although Ursa did address concerns raised about mud on a road during pad construction.


While the Ursa operation offered a close-at-hand urban drilling example for those attending last week’s symposium in Rifle, the urban-drilling issue is actually a far bigger one along Colorado’s Front Range, where many of the attendees were from, than in western Colorado.

“I think there’s an unusual confluence of population growth and drilling activity in Weld County and the Front Range compared to anywhere else in the country,” Matt Lepore, director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission regulatory agency, said as he watched Ursa’s operations.

Sound walls are pretty standard on the Front Range, Lepore said, giving one example of how companies are trying to address the concerns residents have about nearby drilling rigs and hydraulic fracturing operations.

Using electric power is another frequent mitigation measure by energy companies.

“Where they can get access to a power line they’re pretty willing to use it,” he said.

Acting on a state task force recommendation, the COGCC adopted rules designed to provide for consultation with local governments and mitigation of impacts in the case of large-scale oil and gas operations proposed in urban areas.

Steve O’Dorisio, an Adams County commissioner, said he doesn’t think those rules have made any difference yet in terms of the issues local governments are dealing with in counties like his when it comes to drilling operations encroaching on residential areas.

He participated in an Ursa tour and said it’s clear that companies are trying to take steps to mitigate concerns residents have about their quality of life. But local governments like Adams County continue to cope with the problem of large-scale operations near homes. And it’s frustrating for people like O’Dorisio because the state continues to reserve for itself much of the authority over regulating oil and gas development, leaving local governments with little say over the matter.

“It leaves local governments having to come up with solutions when much of our hands are tied. We’re quite limited in what we can do,” he said.

“If the state is going to continue to be the central hub for regulations then they need to spend more time in local areas dealing with people who are frustrated,” he said.

He said he’s seen the state take some steps in that direction, but it needs to play a bigger role in reaching out to affected neighborhoods and dealing with them more directly.

“Because most of the regulations and most of the authority resides with the state, we don’t always have the answers both informationally and policy-wise to address their concerns,” he said.

Garfield County’s land-use authority over the Battlement Mesa drilling is unique, arising because the original zoning for the community subjected any subsequent oil and gas development there to a county review process.


Kathleen Conti, a former state lawmaker and new Arapahoe County commissioner, came away from the Ursa tour impressed by Ursa’s investments in things like sound walls and landscaping to reduce its impacts.

“I’m shocked that there’s enough return on investment that they can afford to drill,” she said.

She said she understands the concerns of people who may face drilling 1,000 feet from where they eat, sleep and raise their families. But she said technological improvements continue to reduce the amount of time it takes to develop wells, and the impacts during that time are far greater than the long-term impacts from a producing well pad.

Lepore said he thinks companies have been pretty amenable to undertaking site-specific measures to reduce impacts beyond what state rules require. He said they also have been increasingly engaging in conversations with local governments even when the new urban drilling local-consultation rules don’t apply because proposed operations aren’t large enough or close to many homes.

O’Dorisio said he didn’t run for office on oil and gas issues, and Adams County isn’t opposed to oil and gas development, but the issue of drilling near homes isn’t going away.

“Because you have large-scale facilities coming into urban areas there’s no way to ignore it,” he said.

“I think everyone is wanting to see solutions, but this is not going to be a destination, this is going to have to be a continuous improvement process.”


Information from: The Daily Sentinel, https://www.gjsentinel.com

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