November 22, 2004
Mr. Mark Stiles, Forest Supervisor
San Juan National Forest
15 Burnett Court, Durango, CO 81301
Dear Mr. Stiles:
Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Northern San Juan Basin Coal Bed Methane Project. Attached please find our detailed comments to the draft EIS. In addition to these, we would like to offer some general comments with respect to the larger policy issues that we hope you will consider carefully.
La Plata County has several concerns with the proposed EIS, and most of these objections relate to drilling locations, preserving a continued quality of life for residents, and the delicate balancing of rights, between surface and mineral estates. The county is aware of the financial benefits of gas development in our community and is not proposing a ban on gas development. However, we are simply proposing developing the minerals in a reasonable and environmentally sensitive manner, using only the best-available drilling technologies, mitigating drilling impacts on surface owners, and preserving roadless and old growth areas.
First, the federal process for minerals leasing allows minerals to be leased and a property right established prior to any public involvement or environmental review. During the following environmental review (such as this EIS), the government states that lease rights prevent the implementation of a "no development" alternative and that some environmental impacts must occur (drilling can not be denied unless there is a No Surface Occupancy stipulation). This leasing process seems fundamentally flawed in that some analysis and public disclosure of potential environmental impacts should be made prior to a decision to lease in the first place.
In reviewing this EIS we have tried to assist Archuleta County by providing our staff's expertise to analyze the document for issues of concern to our neighbor. We are concerned that most of the alternatives allow drilling and production to occur within 1.5 miles of the outcrop in Archuleta County.
This is not allowed in La Plata County on the basis of public health, safety and environmental concerns. No analysis is provided to justify near outcrop drilling in Archuleta County that would be protective of public health and the environment. All alternatives increase methane seepage and decrease water levels in the Fruitland Formation in La Plata and Archuleta Counties. No alternatives were examined that would decrease or mitigate methane seepage at the outcrop. We are very concerned that possible outcrop environmental consequences have not been mapped, monitored or modeled in Archuleta County as they have in La Plata County. This does not seem to be adequate environmental analysis.
We found that the EIS does not thoroughly explain many of the terms and analysis techniques used in the document. This makes it unreadable for the general public, and difficult to analyze except by experts. From our perspective, this does not constitute reasonable public disclosure of the Alternatives, Environmental Consequences and Cumulative Effects.
In the view of La Plata County none of the action alternatives are preferable as outlined. Alternatives 1A, 1B, 3 and 4 all have reasonable aspects to them. Ideally, fully developing Alternative 4 modified to maintain all the HD RARE II areas and old growth areas, maintain the 1.5 mile outcrop buffer in Archuleta County and uses directional and horizontal drilling as application for permit to drill (APD) stipulations to protect sensitive land uses, water influence zones, visual, wildlife and recreation resources would be desirable to La Plata County.
Finally, the draft EIS did not discuss how this development proposal is reasonable and necessary. No cost - benefit analysis is provided in the document that projects and compares the value of the produced resource to the costs to the environment (including intangibles), the county and the federal government. We are concerned that most Alternatives have a negative effect on achieving existing County, BLM and FS planning guidelines or policies for numerous resources (which in the existing condition are often not met either). The proposed development project would allow environmental policies and guidelines to be degraded.
Once again, we appreciate the opportunity to comment on the draft EIS and look forward to continuing to cooperate in the careful development of the gas resource in La Plata County.
LA PLATA COUNTY
BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS
Robert A. Lieb, Frank "Josh" Joswick Chair Commissioner