A temporary restraining order for Gunnison Energy to halt seismic activity in the North Fork Valley was denied in Delta District Court, but a complaint against the Delta County Board of County Commissioners is yet to be resolved.
In the complaint filed June 12, Citizens for a Healthy Community alleges that the county failed to follow its on specific development regulations in entering into an agreement with Gunnison Energy (GE), and that the planning department deemed the application complete "despite the absence of information required by law."
Natasha Leger, interim executive director of Citizens for a Healthy Community, commented, "While the judge did not grant a temporary restraining order, we are pleased that the judge reasoned that Delta County's review process may have been deficient, and recommended expedited judicial review to address the urgency surrounding approval of a project, now allowed to move forward, if the county did not consider vital information required by its regulations. This is a victory for concerned citizens and community oversight of county decisions."
Chris Mocholsky, an attorney representing CHC, said that the suit is not intended to prevent GE from doing future projects in Delta County. Rather the complaint is about the approval process and lack of information in the application required by the county's own regulations. That information includes reports on geological hazards and in-depth studies of the possible impact of the projects on ground water that could result in irreparable harm.
Delta County attorney John Baier said the Colorado legislature gives counties regulatory authority over private lands, while state and federal governments have authority over their lands. The application process follows different tracks at each level of government. Baier said the county followed its regulations in approving the applications, allowing GE to move forward with the projects.
Attorney Kent Holsinger, who represented GE in the role of defendant intervener, stated that GE has an extensive record of sound science and data to back the low impacts of its planned seismic exploration. Holsinger said CHC is citing incorrect statutes that are not relevant to the seismic exploration projects.
County planning director Elyse Casselberry responded to questions from Mochulsky, confirming that the projects were approved administratively sometime around April 2018.
She stated that planning staff's findings complied with the application requirements, and that during the review process public comments were received.
Casselberry said CHC is citing regulations for oil and gas projects that are not part of county regulations.
GE geoscience director Barrett Lavergne has worked on the Gunnison Energy projects for a year, and has overseen geophysical and seismic exploration activity on the projects.
He shared that the Bureau of Land Management conducted a federal analysis of 244 surveys taken over a five-year period to identify impacts that may occur due to seismic action. The analysis produced zero actions of significant impact.
Baier said the county has been in contact with all the landowners in the project where GE has surveyed and identified water wells, buffers, flagging sources and receivers. All this information was provided to the county last fall. He said county planning staff has been on the site regularly and will continue to be.
Concerning the original complaint, Chief Judge J. Steven Patrick outlined a reduced timeline for filings that recognizes that GE's temporary use permit will expire Sept. 1.