Here's the Latest...
San Francisco Creek Spared Wildcat Oil & Gas Exploration
Thursday, June 2, 2016
Christine Canaly, San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council (719) 256-4758, (719) 589-1518, www.slvec.org
Justin Garoutte, Executive Director, Conejos Clean Water (719) 580-9280, www.cccwater.org
After two years of litigation, local citizen environmental groups in Colorado’s remote San Luis Valley (SLV) reached an agreement yesterday with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) that concluded the groups’ lawsuit which challenged BLM’s failure to adequately protect the Conejos aquifer an communities when approving an oil and gas proposal in 2014. The complaint challenged the BLM’s approval of an Application to Drill (APD) that included an Environmental Assessment which claimed drilling through the Conejos aquifer would result in “No Significant Impact.” Yet hydrogeologic studies confirm that drilling threatens the Conejos Formation aquifer―the lifeblood of the unique SLV aquifer system.
In 2006, BLM leased 540 acres of public mineral rights to Dan A. Hughes Oil, out of Beeville, TX. The lease tract was located outside the town of Del Norte, CO, near San Francisco Creek, a tributary to the Rio Grande. The San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council (SLVEC) and Conejos Clean Water (CCW), who initiated the lawsuit in March 2014, have now entered into a Joint Stipulated Agreement and Motion for Dismissal with the BLM that was granted by the Federal District Court of Colorado, dismissing and closing the case on June 2, 2016.
The agreement confirmed that the challenged APD and the underlying mineral lease expired by their own terms earlier this year. Both parties agreed that the termination of the APD and lease cannot be retroactively extended or renewed and neither are subject to appeal or judicial review. Should BLM wish to lease these same lands again for mineral development, BLM would have to “re-nominate the lands for inclusion in a future competitive lease sale.” The Dan A. Hughes Company has confirmed this understanding as well, stating that “Dan A. Hughes Company, L.P.'s Permit to Drill on BLM Lease COC69530 and the Lease itself have expired."
“We are relieved that this particular wildcat play has come to an end. There have been significant changes in the BLM leasing process since 2006 and the public will now have an opportunity to protest before a parcel gets leased, something that didn’t happen last go-round,” said Christine Canaly, Director of SLVEC. “Our organization has been dealing with these drilling threats around the San Luis Valley since 2007. We need to remain focused instead on the future of renewable energy development here, not fossil fuels. Protecting our aquifers is important to us and requires that we stay vigilant here at the headwaters.”
The uniqueness and importance of the Conejos Formation aquifer is well known. In 2012, facing the threat of wildcat oil and gas proposals seeking to strike it rich, a $100,000 Rio Grande Hydrogeologic Study was requested by Rio Grande County Commissioners through the Rio Grande Roundtable and funded by the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The authors made a comprehensive list of recommendations
including intermediary casing to protect the Conejos underground formation, in some areas believed to be about 5,600 feet deep. Such a casing is a key priority that emerged from the study, yet was not incorporated in BLM’s analysis or 2014 approval of the APD.
Although not resolved in this lawsuit, unique aquifers, endangered species, and the environmental justice concerns will trigger provisions of federal law that require BLM to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement and consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service before deciding whether or not to lease federal oil and gas in the SLV.
Unlike most of Colorado, the SLV has not had any appreciable oil and gas development. The Valley is populated with small rural farming and ranching communities that rely extensively on underlying aquifers for their livelihood. The agricultural traditions in the SLV have endured for centuries, and deserve protection from the boom and bust of oil and gas speculation.
“Community voices have made a difference,” says Justin Garoutte, Executive Director of CCW, “This is an Environmental Justice victory, and, as a result, we have human health protection from chemicals that would have been introduced into the groundwater through exploratory oil and gas drilling on public land. Disparate health impacts on the vulnerable populations of the entire San Luis Valley from oil and gas exploration have been avoided. Our communities have been here, in some cases for eight generations and a company simply comes in and acquires a mineral lease. Overnight, this action could have changed community dynamics for generations to come.”
The SLV holds some of the largest concentrations of wetlands in the Southwest United States that support numerous unique and endangered species and thousands of migrating birds each year. The Valley is currently experiencing a growing recreation and tourism sector. The coalition of people represented by SLVEC and CCW includes Valley ranchers and farmers, business owners, property owners and other concerned citizens. Energy & Conservation Law attorneys Allison Melton and Travis Stills represented the groups in the litigation.
Solid Waste Management Outreach Update
Here is an article that appeared in the Valley Courier on May 17:
Earth Days Honored at Valley Schools
Unpredictable springtime weather and busy schedules did not prevent schools and students from honoring Earth Days this year, although times and activities varied. Centauri Middle School held its Earth Day event last Friday featuring presentations by the Forest Service, community projects, and the Conejos Clean Water (CCW) and the San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council (SLVEC) nonprofits. These organizations conduct waste management programs and are providing education to students and the public about proper waste disposal and recycling to reduce waste buildups.
Kristina Crowder, Project Coordinator for the Ecosystem Council, noted that Centauri students and staff were delighted to recognize their peers in a brochure detailing last year’s illegal dump cleanups in Conejos County, a joint effort by the Council and CCW. “We ran out of these fast,” said Crowder, “and I’m glad these clean-ups had such a positive impact on the students.”
In addition to recreational and wildlife opportunities offered by public lands, Forest Service staffers Andrea Jones and Daniel Lopez reviewed job opportunities for students interested in pursuing careers with the agency. Other presentations at Centauri’s school gym were rounded out by Abe Rosenburg representing the Valleybound Antonito School and Community Garden, and Maury Grimm with Nature’s Table on foraging edible wild plants.
Principal Tyler Huffaker and CCW Coordinator Anna Lee Vargas organized Centauri’s Earth Day, involving over 100 students. Vargas, herself a graduate of Centauri, noted “it was great being back at my old middle school and to help educate on these problems.”
Centauri’s event added to a series of presentations to Valley schools, including some in April with the Center School District for their annual service days cleaning up trash around the town’s community park and canal, and Ortega Middle School in Alamosa, addressing waste management and recycling. All told, about 300 middle school students in these various events received the Earth Day message or participated in some way to help out.
Following a successful program startup in Conejos and Costilla counties, a second waste management grant from USDA is making it possible to extend services to Alamosa and Saguache counties. A clean-up is being planned for one of Alamosa’s worst dump sites, and the potential for transfer stations is also under review.
Serving the north end of the Valley, the extended program also addresses Saguache County’s landfill operation which has been costly to operate. Engineering assistance to the program is being provided by Eric Toledo of Rural Community Assistance Corporation.
Also noted was the Ecosystem Council’s participation in Adam State’s annual Earth Fest, including the river clean-up covered in an earlier Courier article.
San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council is a 501C3 non-profit corporation, which was incorporated in 1998 by a group of citizens concerned about impacts to public lands around the San Luis Valley in southern Colorado and northern New Mexico.
We believe in the power of education, stewardship, community involvement and public advocacy. Our mission is to protect and restore the biological diversity, ecosystems, and natural resources of the Upper Rio Grande region, balancing ecological values with human needs.
We have organized several different working groups, including the Friends of Wolf Creek, LEAP-HIGH Water Quality, the Solar Working Group, and others, which include over 100 volunteers. SLVEC has over 400 members, who give what they can in money, time, or expertise. Because of their dedication and support, we have enjoyed many successes in helping to protect this beautiful area. We are very grateful to all of them.
If you would like to get involved, please fill out a membership form, and mail it to:
San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council, PO Box 223, Alamosa, Colorado, 81101
Over a Decade of Dedication to Public Lands
San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council
Seventeen Years of Dedication to Public Lands Integrity
- In 1998, SLVEC submitted a Citizen's Management Alternative (CMA). Approximately one-half of the 1.86 million acres of Rio Grande National Forest (RGNF) is now prescribed as either Back Country or Designated Wilderness.
- 1999, SLVEC organized, advocated and testified before Congress for the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve Act of 2000 preserving the 100,000 acre former Baca Ranch, moving this pristine landscape into Public Land. The ranch is now part of the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, Baca National Wildlife Refuge, and a Baca Mountain Tract addition to National Forest.
- 2001-2004, SLVEC was appointed to the Great Sand Dunes NPS Management Plan Advisory Council by Interior Secretary Gayle Norton, pushing for recommendation of 50,000 acres of wilderness designation. Acquiring the mineral rights beneath the National Park will move this Wilderness recommendation forward.
- 2001-2003, SLVEC, in cooperation with Southern Rockies Conservation Alliance (SRCA) inventoried one-half million areas of Roadless Areas within Rio Grande National Forest (RGNF), using ground truthing forms for documentation and GIS/GPS points imbedded in photographs. Thousands of photos were taken linked to GPS.
- 2004-2005, SLVEC performs a BLM Rapid Assessment Inventory on ½ million acres of BLM roads for the SLV BLM Travel Management Plan and submitted a Citizens Management Alternative. A 51% road closure was recommended by BLM.
- 2005, SLVEC and Colorado Wild filed a lawsuit challenging the Rio Grande County Commissioners' decision on accepting the "Village at Wolf Creek" plat design, a proposed development of 2,122 units near the continental divide. District Judge Kuenhold agreed with the claim because there was no year round access to the land.
- 2006, SLVEC testified before Congress and the Rio Grande Natural Area Act was passed, designating 33 miles of Rio Grande Corridor, from the southern boundary of the Alamosa Wildlife Refuge to the New Mexico State line, extending protection for one-quarter mile from either bank of the river, under BLM jurisdiction.
- 2006, Judge Marcia Krieger agreed with an adjacent landowner and SLVEC lawsuit challenge of the Rio Ox-bow Land Exchange claiming that it was not in the public interest. This decision protected some of the few remaining public access points in the Upper Rio Grande. The case has also brought precedence regarding public/private land trades in Colorado to require an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).
- 2006-2015, Colorado Wild and SLVEC challenged the Forest Service EIS decision granting access to "Village at Wolf Creek". In 2008 Supreme Court Justice Kane agreed with these claims, including the Forest Service narrowing the scope of the EIS. A variation of "Village at Wolf Creek" that includes a new land exchange scenario has been approved bu the Forest Service. SLVEC and associate enviro groups have filed a law suit to contest the Forest Service's decision. An agreement has been reached so that there will be no development until the suit is settled.
- 2005-2012, Water Quality Awareness Project, recipient of EPA Environmental Justice Community Problem-Solving and (CPS) received EPA CARE 1 Grant. Fewer than ten grants were awarded throughout the USA. SLVEC was recipient of the EPA Environmental Stewardship Award (2007) for organizing free household well testing in small communities throughout the SLV. Over 800 household wells have received this free well testing. SLVEC conducted Environmental Health Risk assessments within 13 communities of the SLV. The CARE Project set priorities based on community input and determined next steps for impacting environmental health issues. We also sent out 500 free radon test kits for people to test for this harmful gas within homes and buildings.
- 2006-2015, Challenge of Oil and Gas development within the SLV Baca National Wildlife Refuge, SLVEC spearheaded a legal challenge of Oil and Gas Drilling on the Baca National Wildlife Refuge because the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Process was being avoided. This case was settled with US Fish and Wildlife Service that would reguire a full NEPA process for any further exploration. We continue in our efforts to have the mineral rights transferred to the refuge, which would permanently protect the area.
- 2007, San Luis Hills and Flat Top Mesa, BLM lands in the central SLV slated for minerals leasing -Parcels withdrawn due to SLVEC actions.
- 2008, Mineral leasing offered on the Rio Grande National Forest and BLM lands-144,000 acres deferred indefintely because of SLVEC-promoted citizen input.
- 2010, Co-sponsored a Solar Workshop with other groups at SLV Rural Electric Coop in Monte Vista, CO to bring small businesses and communities together to discuss a community-scale solar siting process.
- 2011- 2015, San Francisco Creek, near Del Norte, CO -Application to Drill (APD) filed with Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) for 5,000 ft exploratory O & G Well by Hughes Oil. BLM releases EA in January 2014 giving OK for drilling to proceed under specific guidelines. SLVEC filed an official legal complaint in an effort to make the drilling comply with findings from an independent study. The study recommends sealing the drill bore all the way through any water bearing formations, which could run the entire depth of the proposed well. SLVEC asserts the protection of our agricultuarally-based industry by keeping the acquifers contaminent free.
- 2011, With Conejos County Clean Water taking the lead, SLVEC reached a settlement agreement regarding the Department of Energy (DOE) proposal for a low level Transwaste facility in Antonito. This transwaste transfer point has been withdrawn. The material was to originate from Los Alamos, NM. A site specific (NEPA) public process will have to be conducted if DOE decides to reopen this proposal.
- 2007-2015, The Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area (NHA), signed into law by President Obama in March 2009, establishes cultural, historical, and natural resource preservation and protection for the southern three counties within the San Luis Valley. The Great Sand Dunes Park and Preserve lands are included within the NHA. SLVEC has served for 6 years on the Board which has now finalyzed a Management Plan.
- 2011, Developed the San Luis Valley Renewable Energy Master Plan to infuse support of community based siting of solar installations.
- 2008-2015, SLVEC works with the public and monitors activity on BLM Solar Energy Zones (SEZ's) on 22,000 acres of land within the San Luis Valley
- 2011, Organized public comments challenging the Air Force Low Altitude Tactical Navigation (LATN) Flyovers, bringing together organizations and sharing information from Colorado and New Mexico constituencies. The proposed project spans 62,000 sq. miles and impacts 38 counties in some of Colorado's most remote backcountry. This proposal has been "postponed" indefininetly due to public outcry.
- 2011, Hosted three public education forums with the Transmission Line Coalition (TLC) concerning the a proposed high capacity transmission line over La Veta Pass, including bringing the utilities (Tri-State and Xcel) together for public discussion. SLVEC-supported public scrutiny of this proposal has resulted in the "postponement" of this project. In 2012, Xcel abandoned its participation in the line making its liklihood of further pursuit doubtful.
- 2011-2013, Community Action for a Renewed Environment (CARE). SLVEC spearheaded a regional effort to identify environmental health hazzards and opportunities, funded by a grant from the EPA. The San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council, in partnership with the public health departments around the Valley, local businesses, and community members worked to assess the environmental health of this region through education and community involvement,. The CARE Project worked with all six counties in the San Luis Valley, which are Alamosa, Costilla, Conejos, Rio Grande, Mineral and Saguache County. Phase I of the CARE project was completed in 2012 with the critical task of identifying healthy environment priorities for SLV communities completed.
23. 2013-2015, CARE- Indoor Air Quality is designed to build capacity (training and education) and provide service coordination to promote healthy indoor environments in primarily homes, schools and child care settings. We are educating school nurses and staff, home health care providers, health care professionals, student nurses and early childhood educators to, train, do outreach and/or demonstration projects that seek to reduce exposure of indoor air contaminants and asthma triggers (dust, mold, second hand smoke and smoke from wood burning stoves).
24. 2014-2015, 50th Anniversary of the Wilderness Act SLVEC sponsored and participated in many events that commemorated the creation of the National Wilderness System in 1964. Included were booths, public outreach and celebrations in art, music and poetry. We collaborated with federal agencies that manage Wilderness such as the Fish and Wildlife Service, National Forests, Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service.
25. 2015-2016, Solid Waste Management As a collaborative effort with Conejos County Clean Water (CCCWater.org), in 2015 we actively identified illegal dump sites in Conejos and Costilla Counties and helped to forge community momentum to clean up the sites as well as educated people on responsible waste disposal, including recycling. Currently, we are working towards the same goals in Alamosa and Saguache counties.