USFS approves Blue Creek oil well

On June 1, District Ranger Kevin Khung of the Pagosa Ranger District endorsed construction of an access road and exploratory oil well in the Blue Creek area of the San Juan National Forest, approximately nine miles southeast of Pagosa Springs. The decision is now subject to public appeal.

The project area is located in Section 18, Township 34 North, Range 1 East of the New Mexico Principal Meridian. More precisely, should the endeavor ultimately receive final approval, the well pad will be just off Forest Road 012, approximately two miles in from the Blanco Basin Road. According to District Environmental Coordinator Rick Jewell, the access road, south from FR 012 to the pad, will be about100 feet long.

According to the official Notice of Decision, drilling must begin before Sept. 15, with all minor surface activities (vehicle access, minor cleanup, removal of trash and supplies, and seeding) allowed until Nov. 15. No access to the site will be allowed between Nov. 15 and June 1. Specific actions will include:

• Performing road reconstruction on FR 012, including 0.7 miles of road reconditioning, construction of eight armored (rocked) rolling dips and cleaning the inlet of an 18-inch culvert.

• Constructing a 100-foot temporary access road (0.1 acre) from FR 012 to the well pad.

• Constructing a 185- by 65-foot (0.3 acre) graveled well pad (following completion of all road activities).

• Drilling over a two-week period on a 24-hour-a-day schedule, with attendant lights and nighttime activity. Daytime activities will include vehicle access, road reconditioning, well pad construction and site reclamation before and after heavy activity, over a two-month period.

The oil and gas leaseholder for that portion of the forest and, therefore, the construction and drilling contractor, is V.F. Neuhaus Properties Inc. (Neuhaus) of McAllen, Texas. As a small corporation and part of the crude petroleum and natural gas industry, its business line is oil and gas production.

If the exploratory well proves productive, Jewell said Neuhaus will likely seek permits to begin production, including the drilling of additional wells in the area. Should it fail, the well pad and access road will be reclaimed and planted with all natural vegetation. To date, Jewell said, the company has experienced a 100-percent failure rate in finding oil in the region.

The official decision also suggests there will be light and noise disturbances as the road is reconstructed, the well pad cleared and drilling operations proceed. Disruption will continue for about two weeks. Following initial reclamation (within 30 days of drilling cessation), activity levels will drop to “normal” and the site will offer little to no disturbance from then on.

Further, the decision outlines specific measures that will protect ground water systems from negative impacts imposed by down-hole drilling and production practices. The use of “environmentally-friendly” drilling fluids, mud constituents, contingency mud additives and other materials will presumably protect surface and near-surface water resources, particularly in areas of significant concern or uncertainty.

To assure road safety — residential and visiting vehicular traffic will pass within 30 feet of active operations — road signage will forewarn travelers of drilling operations.

The Forest Service has completed an Environmental Assessment for the project and, along with the Decision Notice, is available upon request from the Pagosa Ranger District, P.O. Box 310, Pagosa Springs, CO 81147. Both documents are also available on the San Juan National Forest projects Web site at www.fs.fed.us/r2/sanjuan/projects/projects.shtml. To secure a hard copy, visit the district office at 180 Pagosa St., Pagosa Springs.

Anyone wishing to appeal the district ranger’s decision must do so in writing by July 26 (45 days after the legal notice is published in The SUN). Appellants must provide sufficient activity-specific evidence and rationale, focusing on the Responsible Official’s decision and why it should be reversed. At a minimum, an appeal must include the following:

• Name, address and telephone number(s) of the appellant(s).

• Upon request, a valid signature (electronic or otherwise) verifying authorship.

• Identification of the lead appellant when multiple names are listed.

• The subject and title of the decision document, its date, and the name and title of the Responsible Official.

• The specific desired changes (in the decision) and their rationale.

• Those portions of the decision with which the appellant(s) disagree, and why.

• Reasons why the Responsible Official failed to consider appellants’ comments.

• Why appellant(s) believe the decision specifically violates law, regulation or policy.

To appeal this decision, an individual or group must have provided comments or expressed interest in the project prior to the close of the comment period. Appeals may be filed electronically, by mail or hand delivery, with attention to the Appeal Deciding Officer. Electronic filings must be in Word, RTF or PDF format, and sent to appeals-rocky-mountain-regional-office@fs.fed.us.

Appellants may mail appeals to: U.S. Forest Service, Region 2, Regional Office, attn.: Appeal Deciding Officer, 740 Simms St., Golden, CO 80401. Fax them to (303) 275-5075.

For hand delivery, drop appeals at USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Region, Attn: Appeal Deciding Officer, 740 Simms St., Golden, CO 80401, or the San Juan National Forest, Public Lands Center, Attn.: Forest Supervisor, Mark Stiles, 15 Burnett Ct., Durango, CO 81301. Office hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.

For additional information on this decision or the Environmental Assessment, contact Rick Jewell, Pagosa Ranger District, P.O. Box 310, Pagosa Springs, CO 81147, or call him at 264-1509.

chuck@pagosasun.com