Oil & Gas Development
The momentum and scale of oil and gas development in the U.S. set in motion by the Bush administration coupled with hydrofracking technologies has resulted in such an uptick in domestic oil production that by 2011 oil production in the U.S. was the highest it had been in the previous eight years. U.S. oil production is now 13% higher than any of the Bush administration years. Natural gas exploration and production has also reached such an unprecedented scale that there is now a glut of natural gas production in the U.S. and there is concern that well field yields will have to be curtailed because of lack of storage.
There is currently active interest in one of the few ares of the San Luis Valley where buried sedimentary deposits can be accessed- around the town of Del Norte. Much of the San Luis Valley floor consists of thousands of feet of alluvial outwash. The Sangre de Cristo range is predominantly uplifted metamorphic rock while the San Juans are a result of extensive volcanic deposits and neither geologocal types have ever produced marketable hydrocarbons. This may not discourage some explorations, however, so we will keep you updated if other regions are slated for developmental exploration.
Please go to this section to learn more about the active oil and gas explorations around Del Norte. There are currently no other oil and gas exploration proposals in the San Luis Valley that we know of.
During the Bush Administration, oil and gas development on public lands reached an unprecedented high. At the end of 2008, just before leaving office, leases were offered on lands adjacent to or within the viewshed of three national parks: Arches, Dinosaur, and Canyonlands. (See Utah Oil & Gas). This was the final attempt by the Bush Administration to allow our finest public lands to be opened up for development.
The San Luis Valley faced several similar threats. On March 14, 2008, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) offered a 146,000 acre oil and gas lease-parcel sale, primarily on Rio Grande National forest lands in the San Juan Mountains near Del Norte and South Fork, as well as on parcels near the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. These parcels were on sensitive areas of the forest, including 19,000 acres of roadless areas, critical seasonal habitat for big game, and habitats for special, threatened, or endangered species, including the Canada lynx, bald eagle, and bighorn sheep. Some of the parcels offered for lease had a slope of over 40%, where erosion from road and pad construction could cause significant stream sedimentation and habitat destruction. Over half of the lease parcels were within watersheds containing the endangered Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout. These parcels straddled two tributaries to the Rio Grande and the town of Del Norte municipal watershed.
SLVEC worked with a coalition of regional and national environmental organizations, including local citizen groups from Rio Grande and Saguache Counties, to persuade county commissioners to respond. Ninety-eight protests were submitted to the Colorado BLM office (a number higher than any previous submittal) requesting a full withdrawal of these parcels. Because of the public outcry, both Rio Grande and Saguache County Commissioners also requested withdrawal or deferral of the lease sales. SLVEC, in conjunction with Western Resource Advocates, submitted a protest that referenced a previous lawsuit requiring due diligence on roadless area analysis. Our Congressional delegation also requested deferral.
The Forest Service responded by recommending to BLM that these lease sale parcels be temporarily withdrawn. The FS deferred those parcels on USFS land, but those on BLM land were sold.
SLVEC also organized similar opposition efforts when the BLM proposed the lease-sale of lands in the San Luis Hills, Flat Top Mesa area of Conejos County in the spring of 2007. SLVEC, thanks to daily briefings from the Southern Rockies Conservation Alliance network, responded quickly to news of the potential lease sale. Working with Alamosa Riverkeepers and local media, SLVEC organized public meetings to inform the citizens and landowners about the proposed sale. San Luis Hills contains many areas that have been identified as appropriate for Wilderness designation. SLVEC organized multiple protest comments to the BLM lease office from local county officials and nearby landowners, and the proposed parcels were removed from sale consideration at that time.
When former Colorado Senator Ken Salazar became Secretary of the Interior under the new Obama Administration, the lease sales in Utah were re-evaluated and some of the most sensitive leases were postponed indefinitely.