August 20, 2008
Figure 1. Baca National Wildlife Refuge (BNWR) Wetlands and Sangre de Cristo Mountains
Figure 2. San Luis Valley and proposed Lexam drill area on BNWR
(red rectangle in upper right).
I have always told people that the San Luis Valley is more than a home to me. It is a spiritual place unlike any other on earth.
WATER WATCH ALLIANCE (WWA) IS A NON-PROFIT ORGANIZATION OF VOLUNTEERS DEDICATED TO PROTECTING THE WATER AND ENVIRONMENT OF THE BEAUTIFUL AND PRISTINE SAN LUIS VALLEY OF SOUTHERN COLORADO FROM REMOVAL AND CONTAMINATION BY GAS DRILLING.
We believe the best way to protect our spectacular, unique, and sacred home is to ensure that the San Luis Valley remains a NO-GO (No Gas and Oil) Zone in perpetuity. There is great potential for production of solar, wind, geothermal and other forms of renewable energy in our Valley. Indeed, SunEdison is now constructing an 8 MW solar power plant facility just north of Alamosa. Local production of clean, green energy makes more economic and ecological sense than continued reliance on fossil fuels, which come with unacceptable environmental and social costs. We are convinced that, while people can live without natural gas, we cannot survive without sources of clean water for drinking, for agriculture, for municipal and industrial uses, and for natural ecosystems.
We (WWA) formed in August, 2006, when our Crestone/Baca community learned that a Canadian company, Lexam Explorations, Inc. (www.lexamexplorations.com), had recently applied for permits to drill two 14,000’ gas test wells on the newly-formed Baca National Wildlife Refuge (BNWR). Our initial goal was to research the potential impacts of gas mining and suggest “Best Management Practices” recommendations for the BNWR. Many of our recommendations were subsequently written into the drilling permits issued by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC, www.fws.gov/alamosa/BacaNWR.html). Our next objective was to begin educating others in our community and region about the potential impacts of gas drilling here. We organized two showings of the film, “A Land Out of Time,” (www.alandoutoftime.com) that shows the alarming scope and scale of oil and gas drilling which has escalated dramatically throughout the Rocky Mountains since 2001. At these well-attended events, we shared what we had learned with our local community.
Based on the documented impacts of oil and gas drilling and production elsewhere in the Rocky Mountains we are convinced that full-scale gas/oil production in the San Luis Valley would be entirely incompatible with the values and the qualities of our local environment that brought us here and that we hold sacred. And these kinds of activities are completely incompatible with the mission of the newly-formed Baca National Wildlife Refuge. We feel it is our responsibility as citizens and stewards of this unique and sacred place to protect the health and quality of our air and water, our communities, the natural ecosystems, and the profound silence that is so essential for the many spiritual groups and retreat centers that have settled here. Because Lexam’s three drilling permits allow production of gas or oil from the permitted wells in the event they discover commercial quantities, a big strike here would inevitably result in a land rush, with attendant pollution, boom-town effects, and loss of property values.
The primary goal of Water Watch Alliance (WWA) is to protect the quality and quantity of water in the San Luis Valley; many believe that our aquifers could be one of the largest underground reservoirs of clean water in North America, with at least 140 million acre-feet (or 45+ trillion gallons) of recoverable water (Pearl, 1974) worth over $700 billion. This vast reservoir of groundwater forms the headwaters of the Rio Grande River, which is the primary source of water for over 10 million people in the Rio Grande Basin and is allocated to three states (Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas) as well as Mexico under international and interstate agreements. San Luis Valley aquifer water is all the more priceless because it occurs in true desert on the edge of one of the driest regions in the U.S. As human populations continue to grow in the American Southwest, this water will be even more essential for the future survival of human communities and natural ecosystems.
Whereas Lexam and their much larger partner, Conoco-Phillips, aim to extract potentially billions of dollars worth of natural gas beneath our Valley floor, we feel it is our responsibility to protect the exponentially more valuable, priceless aquifer as well as our pristine and sacred natural environment for the benefit of current and future generations, it is our mission to maintain this sacred place in perpetuity as a NO-GO Zone.
We are particularly concerned that since Bush/Cheney took the White House, they have given carte blanche to oil and gas companies to expand into all public lands of the Rocky Mountain West with potential for gas or oil development. Essentially, Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico, Utah, Montana, and North Dakota, with some of the most spectacular scenery in the world, have become “a national sacrifice zone.” Tim Westby (High Country News, 9/27/99) noted in an article about coal-bed methane gas extraction in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming: “To get the gas (out of the Powder River Basin, Wyoming), underground aquifers above the coal bed must be de-watered.”
There have been two previous attempts to take ground water from the San Luis Valley and sell it at great profit (between $5000 and $12,000/acre-foot) to the Denver area. These attempts were by Canadian Maurice Strong of AWDI (American Water Development, Inc.) in the 1980’s and by local rancher Gary Boyce (Stockman’s Water, Inc.) in the 1990’s. In a recent court case which local water officials have dubbed “AWDI-3,” Boyce’s challenge to the Colorado State Water Engineers ruling that limits extraction and exportation of our aquifer water was over-ruled. In another recent water court case, the judge awarded all unallocated groundwater beneath the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve to the federal government.
History and Accomplishments of Water Water Alliance (4/3/08):
1) In the fall of 2006, four of us spent a day with Peggy Utesch of the Grand Valley Citizen’s Alliance (www.gvca.org) in the Rifle/Silt area of Colorado. We toured many gas wells, learned of the adverse health impacts of EnCana’s gas drilling on local human communities and ecosystems, and began accumulating resources and publications describing impacts of gas drilling impacts throughout the West (My Articles and Reports Related to Proposed Gas Drilling).
2) We toured the Baca National Wildlife Refuge (BNWR) with its Director, Ron Garcia. One of our founding members, Lisa Cyriaks, was the official contact between our community and Ron during the process of formulating “best management practices recommendations” for the refuge.
3) We wrote and submitted “Best Management Practices” recommendations for the BNWR (Best Management Practices Recommendations to BNWR). Most of these were subsequently written into the permits for Wells #5 and 6 granted by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) .
4) We organized two community showings of the film, “A Land Out of Time,” (www.alandoutoftime.com) in Crestone, our local town. At these events, we educated local citizens on the geological context and potential impacts of gas drilling. For this event, we distributed a list of “Talking Points” which we wrote and also prepared graphics, including geological cross-sections of the Valley (Geology of the San Luis Valley).
5) In cooperation with the San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council (www.slvec.org), we sent out a fund-raising letter in December, 2006, that netted $8700 in local contributions. Of this, $3500 was spent on retaining environmental lawyers, Brad Bartlett and Travis Stills, of the Energy Minerals Law Center in Durango, Colorado. These lawyers subsequently brought suit against the BNWR for failing to initiate a NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) process, as mandated by federal law (NEPA and The Draft Environmental Assessment).
6) This lawsuit has now forced the BNWR to (belatedly) initiate an Environmental Assessment/Scoping Process as a preliminary step in fulfilling the NEPA process (NEPA and The Draft Environmental Assessment). It is noteworthy that by allowing the well-permitting process to go forward prior to completing a NEPA process and also by actually preparing a 47-page draft document entitled: “Negotiated Operating Plan for Conducting Hydrocarbon Exploration and Development Activities on the Baca National Wildlife Refuge,” BNWR was out of compliance with federal law.
7) We have contacted appropriate politicians (Governor Ritter, Senator Salazar, Congressman Salazar, Colorado Rep. Gail Schwartz, etc.), lobbying them on behalf of protecting our community and supporting green, renewable energy development in our region. (Congressman John Salazar and Governor Ritter are apparently now committed to this clean, green energy strategy; and Salazar recently issued a special report on 21st Century New Energy Solutions.)
8) Based on consulting with an environmental expert in the oil and gas industry, we developed a list of Bullet points and Actions/Tasks for our group and community that are designed to protect our area from drilling. (My Articles and Reports Related to Proposed Gas Drilling)
9) We are researching potential impacts of coalbed methane gas (CBM) production (CBM- Coal-Bed Methane Gas) as well as the complex series of water laws and compacts that govern use of water within the Rio Grande Basin (Rio Grande Basin and San Luis Valley Aquifer). To us, it seems criminally negligent, perhaps insane, to allow the deliberate contamination of the upper headwaters of the Rio Grande drainage system, as this water is a primary source of municipal and agricultural water for for some 10 million people in three states (Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas) as well as Mexico, and its use is governed by treaties such as the Rio Grande Compact.
10) We are trying to cooperate with two other local groups, the San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council (SLVEC, www.slvec.org) and the relatively new San Luis Valley Citizen’s Alliance (SLVCA www.slvca.org) that are also working on this issue, despite the fact that the groups have not always cooperated. Hopefully, our cause will be advanced by the activities of each of these groups. However, WWA seems to be the only one of the three groups completely committed to a NO-GO (No Gas and Oil Drilling) outcome. Although each group can contribute, WWA has unique strengths, including 1) it has the longest history of involvement with the issue, 2) its membership includes Dr. Eric Karlstrom, with over 30 years of experience as a physical and environmental geographer, c) Dr. Karlstrom has assembled a library of resource materials regarding this issue, d) WWA has access to information and advice from an environmental consultant in the oil and gas business.
11) On January 18, 2008, the BNWR released the Draft Environmental Assessment (EA). The Draft EA was prepared by ENRI, a private consulting group paid by Lexam. Thus, it comes as no surprise to us that the draft EA recommends that Lexam’s proposed drilling should go forward. This EA then is what is called a FONSI (Findings of No Significant Impact). To suggest that drilling three 14,000-foot exploratory gas wells through sensitive wetlands and into one of the continents largest and most valuable aquifers is preposterous. In order to come to this conclusion, ENRI (and the BNWR) had to ignore and wish away many, many significant impacts, including potential groundwater contamination, air pollution, noise pollution, light pollution, damage to sensitive riparian ecosystems, damage to archaeological sites and sacred areas of modern Native Americans, and damage to our Crestone/Baca community as well as to the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve.
Indeed, the draft EA indicates that in 2006 the Colorado National Heritage Program documented the presence of Rio Grande suckeron the BNWR. Because this is considered an endangered species by the state of Colorado, we believe that the presence of this species on the wildlife refuge alone should suffice to prohibit the proposed drilling.
Thus, we at WWA have been involved, along with the other local groups, in efforts to critique this very weak and self-serving draft EA and force the BNWR to follow the law and conduct a full-blown Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which will require an additional year or two of studies (NEPA and The Draft Environmental Assessment).
12) In February, 2008, this website was posted by Dr. Eric Karlstrom, Professor of Geography, of Water Watch Alliance. This site is revised and updated as needed.
13) Water Watch Alliance has issued a press release ( Water Watch Alliance Press Releases) and an open letter to Governor Bill Ritter (My letters to Officials), requesting that he place a moratorium on gas exploration activities until a full EIS, a GGP (Comprehensive Conservation Plan) can be completed by the BNWR, and detailed water studies are conducted on the San Luis Valley aquifers, are completed.
14) Dr. Karlstrom has given several radio interviews, two at Salida’s KHEN , one at KRZA, and one with Peter Boyles (KHOW) in Denver (Audio interview with Dr. Eric Karlstrom at KHEN and KRZA).
16) Bound copies of the contents of this website have been presented to Mike Blenden, of the Baca National Wildlife Refuge, Governor Ritter, Senator Salazar, Congressman Salazar, the Saguache County Commissioners, the POA library and the Adams State College Library.
Recommended Actions/Tasks To Stop the Lexam/Conoco-Philips “Drillplay”
During the past year and a half, we at Water Watch Alliance, have learned a lot. However, we are still not sure whether this current “drillplay” is motivated by Lexam’s desire to mine: 1) gas and oil, 2) water, or 3) the American taxpayer. Regarding the potential for gas and oil, it should be noted that San Luis Valley is the northern extension of the Rio Grande Rift, one of five major rifts in the world, and that there is no significant production of oil and gas in any of them. Although many exploration wells have been drilled to depths of over two miles in the Rio Grande Rift to the south, there have been no big finds of gas and oil. However, Lexam claims that test wells they drilled in 1995 on what is now the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve had “oil shows.” Also, water quality studies in the Valley show a “methane band” in Valley wells where water samples in deep wells east of Mosca are saturated with methane gas. But is there enough oil and gas to be commercially viable? This is still a big question. But we know that the nearby San Juan, Raton and Picaeance Basins are major producers of gas and oil and therefore, consider the possibility that there could be significant amounts of gas/oil here also. Regarding water, there have been two major attempts to export water from the huge and priceless San Luis Valley aquifers to the Denver area in the 1980’s and 1990’s. At present, however, a complex set of water laws would make it very difficult to export this water. The third alternative is that Lexam could decide to sell the mineral rights under the BNWR to the surface owner (U.S. government), if there is an attractive offer.
Because gas and oil mining in the rest of the Rocky Mountains is now having tremendously adverse impacts, we must take the threat of gas/oil exploration drilling here very seriously. a knowledgeable environmental consultant with the gas and oil industry has given us the following advice:
1) Oil and gas industry people talk to each other. Based on what our “insider” has heard: Lexam thinks they have hit the jackpot, that this is a massive field, and that this is a great investment. They believe they know exactly what they are going to find and where they are going to find it.
2) Once the three exploratory wells are drilled and they hit gas, this is their proof that is gas here. They will publish their findings and then Conoco-Phillips will come in with lots of money and put in lots more gas wells. The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) will then “cookie cutter” permit and approve all future proposed wells. It will be a “land rush.”
3) Lexam could really be looking for Coal-Bed Methane (CBM) Gas. They’ve been talking about this. CBM gas is more valuable and quite a bit messier than natural gas- which is also very messy.
4) At the very least, the BNWR should get a reprimand for not originally following the NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) process. This has set a very bad precedent. It shows their attitude. We (WWA) and other groups should go after the Department of Interior for this, as they’ve already broken federal laws by allowing this to go forward without a NEPA process.
5) We need an independent third party to do the environmental assessment. The contractors (archaeologists, ENSR, etc.) paid by Lexam are just doing “damage control,” trying to protect Lexam’s interests.
6) Our ‘insider contacts” advise us that once they get their foot in the door with those first wells there will be no stopping them. Hence, we need to have massive demonstrations, protests, invite famous people who have an interest in our area (like Richard Gere and Shirley MacLean) to help our cause, etc. Get famous musicians like Willie Nelson, Paul Winter, Peter Rowan, etc. to give a benefit concert. Get lots of press. Get lots of people who are ready to protest on the ground. Get Native Americans groups involved as much as possible. Go after the Department of the Interior. Go public. Whine. Delay. Envision 10,000 gas wells on the new Baca Wildlife National Refuge (that’s one for every 10 acres). Get coverage by National Geographic, Mother Jones, NRDC.
7). Look at who the owners of the local land are. Look at the land titles maps. Find out what is the evacuation time and what are the evacuation routes if there is an accident and people are poisoned.
8) Get massive petitions to our Senators, Congressmen, etc. Perhaps get these signatures at Boulder/Denver REI stores, etc.) Submit it as a group. Go to Denver, talk to newspapers, radios, have a horseback ride. Get hundreds to camp on the land- with press coverage. This needs to be common knowledge. Get university students and campuses involved.
If you are interested in receiving more information about this issue and/or are interested in contributing funds or ideas to this important cause, please contact:
Water Watch Alliance, P.O. Box 653, Crestone, Colorado, 81131 or Dr. Eric Karlstrom, (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Or please write your concerns in a letter and send multiple copies to:
Governor Bill Ritter: Address: 136 State Capitol, Denver, CO 80203-1729. Phone: 800-283-7215 or 303-866-2471. fax- 303-866-2003. Email: www.Colorado.gov
Senator Ken Salazar: Address: 702 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20519. Washington, D.C. Phone- 202-224-5852, fax 202-228-5036. Alamosa office: phone: 719-587-0096, fax: 719-587-5137. Denver office: toll free phone 866-455-9866, phone 303-455-7600, fax-303- 455-8851. Email: salazar.senate.gov/contact/email.cfm
Senator Wayne Allard: Address: 525 Dirksen Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C., 20519. Washington, D.C.: phone- 202-224-5941, fax- 202-224-6471. Denver office: phone- 303-220-7414, fax- 303-220-8126. Email: allard.senate.gov/
U.S. Representative John Salazar: (Washington, D.C.)- 202-225-4761, fax- 202-226-9669.Address: 1531 Longworth House Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20515. Phone Alamosa office: 609 Main Street, Alamosa, CO 81101; phone- 719-587-5105, fax- 719-587-5137. Email: house.gov/salazar/contact.shtml
State Senator Gail Schwartz: Address: 200 E. Colfax, Denver, CO 8023. Capitol phone: 303-866-4871. Email: email@example.com
State Representative Tom Massey (R- Dist. 60) Address: 200 E. Colfax, Denver, CO 80203. Capitol phone: 303-866-2747, 303-866-2346. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Saguache County Commissioners: Saguache County, P.O. Box 655, Saguache, CO. Phone: 719-655-2231, fax- 719-655-2365.
1) Linda Joseph: phone- 719-256-5003, Email: email@example.com
2). Sam Pace: 719-256-4660
3) Michael J. Spearman: 719-754-2486
Colorado Department of Wildlife: Wendy Wallis. Phone: 303-291-7208. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service: Mike Blenden, Baca National Wildlife Refuge, Alamosa/Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge Complex, 8249 Emperius Road, Alamosa, CO 81101. Phone: 719-589-4021. Email: Baca_EA@fws.gov
Colorado Mule Deer Association, 2005, Management Guidelines for Oil and Gas Development.
Council on Environmental Quality, Executive Office of the President, “A Citizen’s Guide to the National Environmental Policy Act.”
Darin, T.F., and Stills, T., 2002, Preserving Our Public Lands: A Citizen’s Guid to Understanding and Participating in Oil and Gas Decision Affecting Our Public Lands, Sponsored by: Land and Water Fund of the Rockies, Oil and Gas Accountability Project, Wyoming Outdoor Council.
ENSR, 2008, Draft Environmental Assessment of Planned Gas and Oil Exploration, Baca National Wildlife Refuge, Saguache County, Colorado
Grand Valley Citizen’s Alliance, 2006, The Rifle Silt, New Castle Community Development Plan: A Collaborative Planning Document Between the RSNC Defined Area Residents, Antero Resources Corp. and Galaxy Energy.
National Park Service, U.S. Department of Interior, Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, 2006, Draft General Management Plan/Wilderness Study/Environmental Impact Statement.
Oil and Gas Accountability Project, 2005, Oil and Gas at Your Door? A Landowner’s Guide to Oil and Gas Development, 2nd Edition.
Pearl, R.H., 1974, Geology of Ground Water Resources in Colorado. Denver: Colorado Geological Survey, Department of Natural Resources.
Robinski, B., and Shattil, W., 2005, Valley of the Dunes: Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, Fulcrum Publishing.
U.S. Department of Interior Bureau of Land Management, 2006, Surface Operating Standards and Guidelines for Oil and Gas Exploration and Development, 4th Edition.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Lexam Explorations (U.S.A.) Inc., 2007, Negotiated Operating Plan for Conducting Hydrocarbon Exploration and Development Activities on the Baca National Wildlife Refuge.
Western Organization of Resource Councils, 2005, Filling the Gaps: How to Improve Oil and Gas Reclamation and Reduce Taxpayer Liability. Prepared by Kuipers and Associates.
Thanks for your interest in this important issue. Please help us by writing letters, contributing, or anything else you can think of. (Dr. Eric Karlstrom, Professor of Geography, webmaster)