WESTERN SAN JUANS – With approximately 646,400 acres of land in Montezuma, Dolores, La Plata and San Miguel counties identified as a viable location for extensive natural gas drilling, the San Juan Public Lands Center has released a Supplement to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for its Land Management Plan Revision for public comment and review.
An estimated 1,700 natural gas wells could potentially be developed on federal and non-federal mineral lands and the Durango-based environmental group, San Juan Citizens Alliance, believes now is the time to properly plan for the influx of natural gas extraction in the specified area, rather than after the drilling rigs arrive. The group believes it’s time for a citizens’ proposed Master Leasing Plan.
The San Juan Public Lands Center’s Supplement EIS has been developed mainly to incorporate new oil and gas development projections in the Paradox Basin into its ongoing long-term planning effort.
Alarmingly, those new projections estimate approximately 1,700 wells, almost double 2006 projections, could be developed in the area known as the Gothic Shale Gas Play Area, which is approximately 646,400 acres of land in Montezuma, Dolores, La Plata, and San Miguel counties.
The Supplement EIS, which is available online on the San Juan Plan Revision website at HYPERLINK "http://ocs.fortlewis.edu/forestplan" http://ocs.fortlewis.edu/forestplan, discloses new information on projections for the number of wells, road miles, and acres of disturbance associated with developing the shale gas, as well as the results of a recently completed air quality model that incorporates the new development projections and potential impacts to air quality.
The SJCA issued a statement last week supporting the Public Land Center’s decision to gather more information to plan for a possible influx of natural gas development and it believes the agency holds the unique opportunity to specifically shape how the Gothic Shale field will be developed so that public land resources and public health and safety are protected.
“There is a tremendous number of public lands that don’t have leases yet and this is a chance to get ahead of development and do some planning,” SJCA Public Land Coordinator Jimbo Buickerood said.
Of paramount concern, according to Buickerood, is the possible addition of more than 1,700 new gas wells along with related compressors, dehydrators, pipelines and other infrastructure that pose the potential for further degradation of the region’s air quality as it relates to both toxins and visibility. Industry has acknowledged that the majority of air pollutants in the area are caused by fossil fuel extraction, hence additional wells will result in a cumulative effect of continued air quality impairment unless technological upgrades, phased development, and other measures are required by regulators.
Last year, in response to concerns surrounding natural gas leasing processes, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar questioned if there was a better way, possibly through a master leasing plan.
“Salazar said, lets see if there is a way to keep natural gas production going but see if we can do it in a sharper way by doing an examination of the leasing up front instead of after the fact,” Buickerood said. “A part of this is master leasing plans. If there is an area where new development is coming and a large percentage of land is not yet leased, as is the case in the Gothic Shale area, then that is a place were we can do a master leasing plan where you would look at all the values and all the impacts.”
Furthermore, Buickerood believes that a properly completed master leasing plan can not only benefit the environment and natural resources of the area, it can benefit the natural gas companies as well by making the lease approval process more streamlined as well as minimizing the duplication of infrastructure gas wells need in a region.
“There are greater expenses when you don’t plan, not only to the resources but for the industry as well,” he said. “What we plan to do with the Gothic Shale Play Area is have a citizen-proposed San Juan master leasing program submitted. We feel it’s a golden opportunity. Two-thirds of the land is not leased yet. It’s a good time to develop a master leasing plan.”
The San Juan Public Land center is encouraging the public to provide written comments on the Supplement during the 45-day comment period, which will end on Tuesday, Oct. 11. (The SJCA is trying to extend that deadline.) During the comment period, open houses will be held from 6-8 p.m. on the following schedule:
• Thursday, Sept. 1, at the Norwood Community Center
• Wednesday, Sept. 7, at the Durango Public Library
• Thursday, Sept. 8, at the Dove Creek Community Center
• Wednesday, Sept. 14 at the Montezuma County Annex Building
All earlier public comments received on the Draft Plan and EIS remain valid and will be addressed in the Final EIS. The Final Plan and EIS are anticipated to be released in the summer of 2012.
For more information on the open houses or questions on the Supplement, please contact Shannon Manfredi, 970-385-1229.