The Crestone Eagle, September 2006:

Lexam & Colo. Oil & Gas Com. reps to attend meeting on drilling in Baca Wildlife Refuge September 12
by Lisa Cyriacks

Ron Garcia, Manager of the Baca Wildlife Refuge, and Jim Spehar, Sonoran Institute, are convening a second meeting on oil and gas development. This meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, September 12, at the Baca Grande POA Hall, 6:30-8:30pm.

Representatives of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission and Lexam Explorations will be present at the meeting to present information about the application that has been made to the state, the scope of the work intended, the rights of property owners, and information about avenues to mitigate the impact of the proposed exploration and drilling.

At the first meeting held in August, Ron Garcia and Jim Spehar, presented the information currently available to them and a proposed strategy for developing a coordinated plan to deal with concerns from the refuge, the Baca subdivision, and surrounding community. Information from the August meeting is already posted on the Saguache County website: www.saguachecounty.net, including a resources list of where to find additional information. An informed perspective is critical. Do not miss this opportunity to ask questions about the regulatory process involved in mineral exploration and development, and inform yourself about your rights.

Sometime in the past, the mineral rights were severed from the surface rights of the Baca Ranch (which includes the Baca Grande subdivision and the area above the subdivision). With the recent acquisition of the land, the federal government also acquired the water rights, but not the mineral rights. Lexam Explorations, Inc., Toronto, Canada, currently owns 100% interest in the hard mineral rights and a 75% interest in the oil and gas rights. The remaining 25% interest is owned by ConocoPhillips.

US Fish and Wildlife, the federal agency that manages the surface rights, has a legal mandate to accommodate the exploration and development of mineral interests; but also has a mandate to protect the resources on the refuge by laying out the concerns about surface impacts due to the drilling. At this time, Lexam Explorations has agreed to negotiate on how the drilling and exploration will be done. There are federal regulations that apply, and US Fish and Wildlife is complying with the procedures that apply. Ron Garcia, as refuge manager, stated his intention to seek the most effective and environmentally friendly way through this process.

Jim Spehar of the Sonoran Institute has background in dealing with these industries in other areas in Colorado. Oil and gas exploration is growing exponentially in the West and in Colorado. As part of their ongoing commitment to Saguache County, the Sonoran Institute has agreed to facilitate these discussions with Lexam, the Wildlife Refuge, and community representatives—creating a “negotiation team” utilizing best practices developed in other communities in the West. Jim also advocated creating a short-term approach and a long-term strategy for dealing with any future possibilities for drilling in the San Luis Valley.

Concerns that were raised by the audience at the August meeting, included general health and safety issues, potential negative impacts on air and water quality, impact to the wildlife and the sensitive environment protected by the Baca Wildlife Refuge—including wetlands, temporary vs. permanent impacts from drilling, sound levels creating by the drilling, the current political climate which may not afford citizens much protection, watershed protection, protecting our homes and quality of life.

Additional information can be found at: www.saguachecounty.net. Or you can contact Ron Garcia at the Baca National Wildlife Refuge 719-256-5527; ron_j_garcia@fws.gov or Jim Spehar at the Sonoran Institute Central Rockies Office 970-263-9635; jspehar@sonoran.org.

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