by Bea Ferrigno

Area residents remain concerned about the possibility of oil and gas development near Del Norte. Several attended a presentation there on May 11 by a couple from the San Juan basin area of New Mexico whose large ranch was devastated by oil and gas wells: the subsurface rights had been sold  before anyone knew what the consequences might be.

Tweeti Blancett said that income to states from severance taxes is one matter, but that collateral damages can take several lifetimes to repair. It seems that oil/gas extraction on privately held lands is not subject to environmental regulations. The Blancett ranch had no difficulties with conventional oil wells, but from the 1980s onward, “cracking” wells multiplied along with evaporation ponds that concentrate heavy metals, illegal dumps, and unpaved roads through the desert to serve as many as 32 wells in each section.  Each of those wells consumed some half-million gallons of fresh water that emerged contaminated.  The Blancett ranch was ultimately sold to Philips Conoco and the couple purchased another property with intact subsurface rights.

Locally, the First Liberty well near Del Norte turned up dry and has been plugged,  but the Hughes well on San Francisco Creek is still on track for exploration, though an Environmental Assessment (EA) will be required.  Our thanks to Mike Blakeman for clarifying that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) owns only the mineral rights there, rather than the land itself, which is leased to the Dan L. Hughes company of Texas.  Andrew Archuleta, BLM Field Manager, told the May 14 meeting of the Rio Grande Water Conservation Roundtable  (RGRT) that a draft EA should be released during the week of May 19. A 30-day comment period would follow, but no public meetings were planned.  The well operators would also have to obtain a conditional use permit from Rio Grande County, which could contain conditions similar to those agreed to by First Liberty, including casing to greater depth than required by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. Members of the RGRT discussed the possibility that it might be better to let the well itself determine how much casing should be installed, as drill cores and logs would indicate soil conditions and whether or not any groundwater is present.