The Crestone Eagle, October 2006:

Community turns out to express concerns on Lexamís plans to drill in Baca Wildlife Refuge
by Lisa Cyriacks

Over eighty Valley residents showed up at a September meeting where Lexam Explorations Inc. presented their plans for drilling two speculative 14,000 feet deep test wells, and collecting additional seismic data on the Baca National Wildlife Refuge. The Colorado Oil and Gas Commission also sent representatives to explain the permitting process and answer questions about regulation and enforcement of the drilling and exploration process.

The proposal is controversial. The legislation that was passed to create the Baca National Wildlife Refuge (and Great Sand Dunes National Park) was written to protect water resources in the San Luis Valley. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently took over management of the land dedicated to the Wildlife Refuge, and has not really had time to collect baseline data to determine what eco-systems need what level of protection, or even a complete assessment of what species are present on Refuge lands.The proposed sites for the drilling are located 1.5 and 2.0 miles west of the Baca Grande “Grants” boundary along the Willow Creek drainage.

The community’s concerns focused on the potential adverse impacts on the confined and unconfined aquifers during the drilling process, and long-term adverse impacts on overall water quality. Additional concerns about disturbance to a natural area, noise, traffic, unsightly rigs, potential adverse impacts on wildlife—particularly migratory waterfowl—and air pollution were also raised. Many questions were left unanswered at the end of the evening due to time constraints.

What is not at question is Lexam’s legal right to exercise their subsurface mineral rights and proceed with exploration. Ron Garcia, Refuge Manager, and Jim Spehar, Sonoran Institute, are interested in forming a community workgroup to identify community concerns and in facilitating discussion among all parties involved to provide opportunities to mitigate impacts.

Jim Spehar reminded the crowd Tuesday night that Lexam had no legal obligation to hear or factor in community concerns. Jim Donaldson, Lexam’s U.S. Operations Manager, did indicate a willingness to listen to community concerns and consider mitigation where possible. He also made it clear that Lexam would be working with Ron Garcia of the Baca Wildlife Refuge to negotiate terms for proceeding with the exploration. Mr. Donaldson reminded the community that two previous exploratory wells drilled in the 1990s had been plugged and successfully remediated.

Colo. Oil & Gas Commission presentation
Bob Macke and Patricia Beaver of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) made presentations on the permitting process, the role their organization plays in regulation, oversight and remediation should problems occur, and reviewing well construction and sonic devices used to monitor the sealing of casings—ideally preventing water contamination.

The COGCC will conduct baseline water quality sampling to compare to later samplings. Brian Macke said, “If contamination occurs, the operator must remediate any kind of environmental impact.” Macke also pointed out that there are no water wells within a mile of where Lexam is drilling, so the possibility of contamination is remote.Lexam would also be required to provide financial assurance ($5,000 per individual well, and $25,000 for the seismic testing).

There are many ways and new technologies to mitigate surface impacts and address landowners’ concerns. Peggy Utesch, a Colorado rancher/poet from the Western Slope, shared her experiences in working with “the industry”. Not all of her experiences have been positive. She started out angry because she discovered as a property owner that she had no rights when it came to mineral exploration. “All the laws are written in their favor.”

Her advice was to develop a plan utilizing community values as a vehicle to establish strategies for protection. By joining with others in her community, Ms. Utesch helped to formulate the Rifle, Silt, New Castle Community Development Plan. Her main message was for citizens to educate themselves and to be involved—“serving as the eyes and ears on the ground to force accountability”.

Lexam plans to proceed with seismic testing as soon as all the permitting and surveys are complete—as early as January or February of 2007. Drilling could commence as soon as early Spring 2007. There is still time to form a community negotiations team, but time is of the essence.

Community action group meeting to be held Oct. 3
A third meeting has been scheduled, Tuesday, October 3, 6:30pm at the Baca Grande POA Hall to determine the next steps and community interest in forming a community action group.. Information about the two previous meetings is posted at www.saguachecounty.net. Questions can be directed to Ron Garcia, U.S. Fish & Wildlife at 719-256-5527; ron_j_garcia@fws.gov or Jim Spehar at the Sonoran Institute Central Rockies Office at 970-263-9635; jspehar@sonoran.org.

Subscribe to the Eagle!