Ultra Resources, which wants to do exploratory oil and gas drilling on the Banning Lewis Ranch, is meeting with Colorado Springs’ Council President Scott Hente and some city staff today in a private meeting, presumably to talk about de-annexing the land, which the energy developer purchased after the property was auctioned as part of an October 2010 bankruptcy.
Environmentalists have been following the issue closely. A documentary viewing and panel discussion on the controversial mining technique known as fracking, held last Thursday at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, drew 150 people.
“If possible, please ask some tough questions about disclosure and the environmental soundness of Ultra’s fracking processes,” Steven Saint-Thomas of the Green Cities Coalition urged city leaders in a Facebook post Monday.
Ultra recently got clearance from El Paso County officials to drill three exploratory wells on Colorado State Land Board property, one of which is near Banning Lewis. The activity could start next month. County commisisoners had suspended issuing new permits for exploratory drilling until late January, saying they needed more time to write land use regulations for the industry. But, three weeks later, on Oct. 20, they made an exception for Ultra.
The reason, said County Commissioner Dennis Hisey, is that an Ultra representative personally contacted him immediately following the Sept. 29 meeting when commissioners enacted the moratorium on new applications, saying the company believed it was already in the process of getting a permit because it had talked with the county’s development services department. After getting more details, Hisey asked that the resolution be changed to accomodate Ultra’s request to begin drilling before the county’s suspension is lifted.
If the 18,000 acres of Banning Lewis that Ultra owns is de-annexed from the city, the land would fall under the jurisdiction of the county, and Ultra would be subject to the county’s new regulations. A draft copy is available for public review through Nov. 28 on the county’s website, www.elpasoco.com. The regulations are expected to be adopted by the time the moratorium on new applications is lifted in late January.
If Ultra is successful in the de-annexation, which could be settled by a U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Colorado, Ultra also won’t be under the thumb of Colorado Springs Utilities, which would mean it could drill new wells for water needed for exploratory oil and gas drilling and not rely on the city’s water system.
Ultra since has submitted a court filing in Colorado that essentially restates the disputed issues; the city has until Nov. 30 to respond.