Crestone Eagle, October 2006:
Community turns out to express concerns on Lexam’s 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
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; firstname.lastname@example.org or Jim Spehar at the
Sonoran Institute Central Rockies Office at 970-263-9635;
to the Eagle!