Last updated 2:07AM ET
December 13, 2017
KSUT Regional
KSUT Regional
HD/Outcrop Drilling Decision Issued
(2007-04-05)
The Fruitland Outcrop East of Durango juts forward in this aerial photo from last summmer. (Photo: Victor Locke, KSUT)
(ksut) - HOST LEAD: After almost six years of deliberation and study, a decisions been rendered about new gas well drilling in sensitive areas of La Plata and Archuleta County's.
KSUT's Victor Locke reports.

STILES: RECORD OF DECISION IS THE RESULT OF A LONG EFFORT. WE'VE BEEN WORKING FOR FIVE OR SIX YEARS NOW.
VICTOR: San Juan Forest Supervisor and BLM Center Manager Mark Stiles 55 page Record of Decision concerns coal bed methane well development in the Northern San Juan Basin, East of Durango.
Six gas production companies holding leases in the 125-thousand acre area straddling the La Plata, Archuleta County line north of the Southern Ute Reservation want to start drilling wells.
The Forest Service and BLM are involved because about half the proposed nearly 300 wells would be on federal lands, including two environmentally sensitive areas.
One of those is the Fruitland Coal Outcrop.
That's where the coal seams holding the gas emerge near the surface, resulting in gas seeps, killing vegetation, contaminating groundwater and more.
Stile's decision forbids wells within one and a half miles of the outcrop in LaPlata County.
STILES: UNLESS COMPANIES CAN COME FORWARD WITH SUBSTANTIAL EVIDENCE THAT THEIR PROPOSED DRILLING ITSELF WOULD FURTHER REDUCE EXISTING OUTCROP EFFECTS.
For example, reduce gas seeps.
Right now there are no requests to drill wells within the outcrop buffer area in LaPlata County.
On the Archuleta sides, it's a different story.
Some wells have already been drilled, more are proposed and will be allowed, but they'll be closely monitored.
And, if problems develop the company would have to fix them.
STILES: WE ALSO RETAIN THE AUTHORITY TO REQUIRE THE COMPANIES TO RESTRICT THEIR PRODUCTION IN SOME WAY, ALL THE WAY DOWN TO SHUTTING IN THAT OFFENDING WELL.
Environmentalists and others have also expressed concern about allowing drilling in the 20-thousand acre roadless area of the HD mountains, East of Bayfield.
STILES: FOR THE HD MOUNTAINS AND FOR THE INVENTORIED ROADLESS AREA IN PARTICULAR, THERE WILL BE SOME WELLS AUTHORIZED IN THE INVENTORIED ROADLESS AREA.
That development would occur in about 5 thousand of the roadless areas 20-thousand acres, away from steep or unstable areas.
In total, Stile's decision would allow 124 new wells and 93 miles of new roads on public lands.
Plus, he says the decision also imposes new tougher requirements for reducing air pollution from wellpad equipment.
PEARSON: I THINK IT'S CLOSE TO WHAT WAS IN THE FINAL ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT STATEMENT THAT CAME OUT LAST FALL.
Mark Pearson is Director of the San Juan Citizen's Alliance, one group that's monitored the well proposals.
PEARSON: BUT I THINK THE FOREST SERVICE HAS ATTEMPTED TO DEAL WITH THE CONCERNS OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENTS AND WITH RESIDENTS HERE. IT JUST DOESN'T SEEM TO US THAT GIVEN HOW MANY THOUSANDS OF OTHER WELLS ARE BEING DRILLED IN THE SAN JUAN BASIN, THERE'S ANY GREAT URGENCY TO DRILL WELLS HERE IN THIS LAST LITTLE TINY SLIVER OF THE SAN JUAN BASIN, PARTICULARLY GIVEN THE ENVIRONMENTAL PROBLEMS THAT ARE GOING TO OCCUR HERE.
Pearson says they are particularly upset wells will be allowed near the outcrop in Archuleta County.
PEARSON: IF ANY PLACE IN THE BASIN YOU COULD SAY NO TO DRILLING, IT SEEMS THIS IS THE PLACE THEY SHOULD JUST SAY NO.
Third District U.S. Congressman John Salazar also weighed in saying he thinks the decision is reasonable, but he's disappointed wells were approved in the HD Roadless area.
Appeals of the decision have to be filed in 45 days.
If none are filed or they aren't upheld, the gas companies would then be able to seek final approval to develop wells in the area.
From KSUT, Four Corners Public Radio, I'm Victor Locke.
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