BATTLEMENT CONCERNED CITIZENS – THE HISTORY
Battlement Mesa (BM) is an unincorporated Planned Unit Development (PUD) community in Garfield County in western Colorado located in the Grand Valley near the Colorado River and the Town of Parachute. It was originally developed by Exxon Corporation in the 70’s to house a work force of oil shale workers and their families. After the bust of 1982, which had a devastating impact on the area for many years, BM was sold to a developer and was then marketed as a ‘good place to retire.’ And indeed, many retired people moved there.
At the time of the sale, it appears that Exxon also sold the mineral rights and early planning documents showed the proposed location of 14 well sites for natural gas (NG) exploration within the PUD boundaries. In December of 1989, Battlement Mesa Company appears to have sold the mineral rights back to Exxon, according to the county records.
Most BM home buyers were not aware of the potential for NG drilling and many were told that drilling would never happen since the gas was of poor quality and quantity and therefore not economically feasible to extract.
From about 2004 – 2008 the area experienced a NG boom that saw considerable NG drilling in the area. Residents saw the impacts of the boom – namely increased traffic, air pollution, transient population, etc. There was also a more robust economy with lots of high-paying jobs in the energy industry. However, local business had difficulty filling openings because their pay scale could not compete with the industry jobs. The rents increased significantly and rapidly – forcing many retirees on fixed-income to reluctantly move away. They were replaced with workers making good money in the gas patch.
Then beginning in late 2008 the economy began to falter and simultaneously the market price of natural gas went down with supply exceeding demand. The energy industry began to slow down, the housing market began to fail and the workers started leaving.
On May 27, 2009 at a community meeting the residents were informed that Antero Resources had leased the Exxon-owned mineral rights. After negotiating with the developer, Battlement Mesa Partners Inc., for nearly two years, Antero announced plans to develop 10 well pads and 200 wells within the PUD boundary. They agreed to donate $1 million dollars to the community governing body as a token of their good intentions.
Most residents were shocked, bewildered and felt betrayed that this was happening. Many stated that they had no idea that drilling might occur in the community. Meetings were held and angry residents began to explore their options. With the help of the Western Colorado Congress (WCC) and the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance (GVCA), the Battlement Concerned Citizens (BCC) group was formed, as a committee within the GVCA structure. We learned from the county that when they approved the PUD, they stipulated that a special use permit (SUP) or major land use impact review (MLUIR) would be required before any drilling could take place.
It was felt that an industrial operation such as NG exploration and production should not be permitted in a residential community. However, since current law and regulation allow it, BCC decided that our primary thrust should be the health impacts of NG development. A citizen’s petition was drafted and circulated within BM. The petition asked the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC), the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) and the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) to defer permitting decisions until after a health study had been completed. Over 400 signatures were quickly obtained and they were presented to the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) in September, 2009. See attached sample.
The county commissioners were receptive of our petition and directed the GarCo Public Health staff to meet with us. After meeting with the Director of Public Health and the Environmental Health Director we wrote a letter detailing our requests. See attached copy.
At about that time, through our contacts with WCC, we became aware of a relatively new phenomenon – a Health Impact Assessment (HIA). It is a pro-active project to study the impacts of industry on human and community health and advise decision-makers. See the web-site:
After we proposed the HIA, GarCo Public Health and the Colorado School of Public Health (CSPH) recommended this approach to the BOCC. The BOCC agreed to fund the study. The CSPH applied for a grant from the Pew Charitable Trust and R. W. Johnson Foundation but were unsuccessful since the BOCC had already agreed to fund it.
The first draft of the HIA report was completed and released on September 20, 2010. The BOCC granted a 30 day extension for comments at the request of the O&G industry in order to allow their experts more time to review and comment on the report. Written comments on the draft report were to be submitted by November 15. See the report: http://www.garfield-county.com/public-health/documents/1%20%20%20Complete%20HIA%20without%20Appendix%20D.pdf
BCC had been in contact with several well-respected experts in the area of toxicology and public health. Dr. James Kornberg has submitted comments to the first draft on our behalf and further has recommended seeking a moratorium on new drilling until further study has been completed.
After receiving over 400 individual and organizational comments to the first draft of the HIA, the CSPH team went to work on the second draft. The second draft, became available on March 1, 2011, with a thirty day period for submitting comments.
The second draft appeared to address many of the concerns expressed by BCC, Battlement Mesa residents and Dr. Kornberg. See the report: HYPERLINK "http://www.garfield-county.com/public-health/battlement-mesa-health-impact-assessment-draft2.aspx" http://www.garfield-county.com/public-health/battlement-mesa-health-impact-assessment-draft2.aspx
There were over 70 specific recommendations made to mitigate the impacts of the Antero plan. The second draft also included a written response to every comment that had been submitted for the first draft.
It should be mentioned that the CSPH had expected to have a detailed plan of the drilling activities from Antero. However, when Antero did not submit a CDP or any other details to the HIA team, the project became more difficult. Antero’s level of cooperation seemed to diminish as the project progressed.
On March 21, 2011 the county commissioners, at the request of the O&G industry, extended the comment period by an additional thirty days, with a deadline of April 27, 2011.
On May 2, 2011 the county commissioners terminated the contract with the CSPH for the HIA. “We have gathered adequate data and information in the report and the commissioners put the project to rest,” said Jim Rada, project manager and Garfield County Public Health environmental health manager. “Conflicting perspectives expressed between the oil and gas industry, the community and the School of Public Health were deemed to be irresolvable.”
BCC voiced its opposition to the project termination but were rebuffed by the BOCC.
The CSPH, in addition to the HIA project, were to develop the design for an Environmental Health and Monitoring System (EHMS). The status of that project is currently unknown.
To this date (Nov., 2011) Antero has not yet submitted a CDP to the COGCC nor a SUP application to Garfield County. Antero has indicated that it will submit a Comprehensive Drilling Plan (CDP) to the COGCC before they apply for the SUP required by the county. Hearings and public meetings will follow.
In about February of 2010, BCC was contacted by an area attorney with experience using “1041 powers” to have the county exercise more control over the oil and gas industry. In June of 2010, BCC and the attorney gave a presentation to the BOCC requesting that they consider using “1041 powers.” The county rejected the idea but left the door open and further discussion is possible. These efforts may resume in the future. The attorney, G. Moss Driscoll, is now in the Peace Corps serving in Africa. We are still in contact via email.
In mid-2010, BCC and RSNP were contacted by two large NYC law firms (Napoli, Bern, Ripka and Weitz & Luxenberg) regarding possible interest in representing Battlement Mesa and Silt Mesa residents that did not want problems of a drilling operation in their residential community. Both firms showed interest and sent representatives to visit. Residents felt that NBR and their Aspen co-counsel, Thomas-Genshaft, would best suit their needs. Numerous residents signed agreements to be represented. Eight individuals were selected from that group to be class representatives. A class-action suit was filed in July, 2011, in Denver District Court (Case No..: 2011cv5118), naming Antero Resources as defendants. There were three causes stated: 1) medical monitoring need, 2) diminution of property values and 3) equitable relief. In September, 2011, Antero’s attorneys submitted a motion to dismiss. The case is pending.
In the spring of 2010, WCC notified BCC of a citizen-based air sampling program available through the non-profit Global Community Monitor, called the “Bucket Brigade.” With financial support NRDC and WCC assistance, GCM came to BM in August, 2010 to build two air sampling buckets and train about a dozen volunteers. Unfortunately, the training was completed shortly after some BM residents experienced significant noxious odors from an Antero well-pad just outside the PUD boundary. While no further significant odors have occurred in BM since the brigade was formed, two air samples were collected at a residence in the Silt area in support of our fellow-GVCA members. When analyzed, high levels of hydrogen sulfide were found in one and a variety of VOC’s in the other.
During these major events, BCC has made numerous appearances before the BOCC in cases such as the Williams drilling on the PUD without a SUP, which resulted in an order to clean-up drill cuttings. Our appearances supported or opposed many issues, or presented viewpoints. BCC has been active attending BMSA, Oil & Gas Committee meetings, Antero presentations, EPA hearing in Denver and Stakeholder meetings on the HIA and County Air Quality. BCC has voiced concerns to the BMMD concerning water issues related to oil and gas development. We have sponsored and provided presentations on the many problems associated with oil and gas development and developed response forms for residents to record their experiences.
We have conducted many interviews with newspapers, TV, Public Radio and other groups involved in responsible O&G development. Through our affiliation with GVCA and WCC, we are currently providing Comment to the COGCC on their new proposed fracking rule.