The Crestone Eagle, March 2008:

Citizens call for full Environmental Impact Statement at Fish & Wildlife’s meeting on Lexam’s drilling proposal
Deadline for comments on Draft Environmental Assessment is March 3

by Ceal Smith

Sam Pace expresses concern at a US Fish and Wildlife meetingOver 75 citizens attended a public meeting held by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) at the Baca Grande Property Owners Association (POA) on February 12. Citizens were unanimous in their call that USFWS conduct a full Environmental Impact Statement on Lexam Exploration’s proposal to drill two test wells in the Baca National Wildlife Refuge.

The USFWS released its draft environmental assessment for a 45-day public review process that ends March 3. Under the National Environmental Policy Act rules, the EA is required to analyze the potential impacts of Lexam Explorations’ proposal on the environment, public safety and the economy. Following public review, USFWS District Manager Stephen Guertin, in Denver, will decide weather or not a more comprehensive Environmental Impact Statement will be conducted.

The EA introduces 37 mitigation measures that USFWS is proposing to lessen the impacts of Lexam’s drilling activities. These standards and measures include on-site archaeological monitoring, no drilling during the May-July spring migration season, 3,000’ deep double casing, use of a closed-loop system and monitoring of nearby wells to protect water resources, buffer zones around sensitive species habitat, dust mitigation measures, $1 million liability insurance and others. These measures go beyond what is normally required in gas and oil development in Colorado; however, for many they are still not good enough.

Dozens of citizens spoke during the 4-hour public meeting facilitated by a USFWS District office representative and Refuge Manager Mike Blenden. Lexam representatives were also present at the meeting.

Citizens expressed a multitude of concerns that the draft EA failed to adequately address the significance of impacts and that the standards and measures did not ensure that these impacts be minimized. Many felt that the EA ignored the unique qualities of the area.

There were concerns that public health and safety issues such as increased traffic on T-road were not adequately addressed. Many were concerned that the unique Sense of Place values in the area, such as quietude, protection of the Class I air shed, and economic and social impacts on the area’s 24 retreat centers were ignored. Potential geohazards such as induced earthquakes and blowouts, threats to the Closed Basin aquifer, noise and light concerns, impacts on endangered species, elk and other wildlife, a lack of studies to support the EA conclusions and the impact of drilling on the nearby Great Sand Dunes National Park were not adequately addressed.

Refuge Manager Mike Blenden was asked why USFWS didn’t take purchase of the mineral interests more seriously even when lack of funds was not in place when legislation was passed to purchase the Baca to expand the Great Sand Dunes National Park. If the government purchased the mineral rights it could prevent Lexam or anyone else from drilling on the refuge.

The consensus among speakers during the meeting was that an environmental impact statement is needed. This process could take several years to complete according to project leader Mike Blenden. A decision is expected in April or May, following the public comment period.

To get a copy of the USFWS draft EA document: http://www.fws.gov/Alamosa/BacaNWR.html or call 719-589-4021 to request a copy. Comments may be directed to: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Michael Blenden, 9383 El Rancho Lane, Alamosa, CO 81101, Baca_EA@fws.gov.

The Deadline for submitting comments is March 3.

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