DENVER (CN) – Residents of a town nicknamed “the Colorado Dream” sued the state Oil and Gas Conservation Commission in state court in Denver Thursday for approving a drilling permit that they claim threatens the “idyllic community.”
Filed by Battlement Concerned Citizens and the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance, the lawsuit scrutinizes the commission’s approval of Ursa Operating Company’s most recent proposal to frack, or hydraulic fracture, and drill 24 oil and gas wells in an area already dense with mineral development.
Set on the Western Slope between the Colorado River and its namesake 11,000-foot high rock formation, Battlement Mesa is home to 4,471 people. A popular community for retirees in Garfield County, Battlement Mesa is home to a historic golf course.
Because of the project’s proximity to residential homes, the commission designated it a large urban mitigation area facility, requiring placement “as far as possible from homes and that it use the best available technology to protect the surrounding community from adverse impact associated with the planned oil and gas activity,” according to the lawsuit.
Drilling would occur within 1,000 feet of 51 homes, including eight mobile homes located right on the 500-foot boundary. Drilling would also occur just 550 feet away from the community’s main water source, the Colorado River.
In an earlier proposal, Ursa would have placed one well 340 feet from the nearest home. Because that proximity would require approval from residents, Ursa rearranged its layout moving the well 512 feet away from the nearest home.
Residential concerns range from the fear of unstable soil collapsing on the hillside to an increased risk of cancer associated with living near a fracking site. Nevertheless, the commission approved Ursa’s permit without holding a public hearing on the issue.
“By approving the [fracking site], the COGCC has continued to prioritize oil and gas profits over Colorado residents’ public health and quality of life,” said Dave Devanney, chairman of Battlement Concerned Citizens, in a statement. “[The site] will bring hazards that will plague our community for many years to come, in addition to adding to the cumulative impacts we already feel on a daily basis from the hundreds of wells in and outside of our community.”
Citing the Administrative Procedure Act, the community groups ask the court to overturn Ursa’s drilling permit and to affirm the commission’s ability to “overturn staff decisions that are not sufficiently protective of public health.”
The community groups are represented by attorney Wyatt Sassman, a member of the Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Denver’s Sturm Law College.
Last fall, 53 percent of voters in Garfield County turned down Proposition 112, a statewide ballot initiative aimed at restricting new oil and gas development.