Citing wetlands, wildlife concerns, judge blocks drilling on Baca NWR
Residents in the San Luis Valley of Colorado and conservation groups commended a U.S. District Court decision to block oil and gas drilling in the Baca National Wildlife Refuge. U.S. District Court Judge Walker Miller Thursday issued a preliminary injunction blocking Lexam Explorations, a Canadian mining company, from drilling and any other activities related to oil and gas exploration on the 79,000-acre refuge in southwest Colorado.
Judge Miller wrote in his decision that “it is undisputed that the Refuge contains unique resources, including sensitive wetlands, habitat for a variety of wildlife and fish, aquifers that play an important role in the wetlands and in providing water for the community, clean air, and a large expanse of undeveloped land with a significant ‘sense of place’ and quiet.”
“This decision is a victory for those of us who live and work in the San Luis Valley and who have fought to protect the refuge and its special sense of place,” said Christine Canaly, a spokesman the San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council, plaintiffs in the case.
The refuge contains more than 15,000 acres of irrigated wetlands and another 10,000 acres of natural wetlands and playas, considered among the most pristine and biologically diverse wetlands in the southwestern United States. The refuge also acts as an important recharge area for San Luis Valley’s groundwater aquifer system.
The federal government purchased the refuge in 2000 for the purpose of protecting its “unique hydrological, biological, educational and recreational values.” Lexam, owners of mineral rights within the refuge in 2006 proposed to drill for natural gas there. The Department of Interior, under the Bush administration, approved the plan, finding that drilling and gas exploration would have no significant impact on the refuge or groundwater, and that a full environmental impact analysis was not necessary.
In granting the preliminary injunction, Judge Miller said that the proposal submitted by Lexam and approved by USFWS did not present sufficient safeguards, or include any meaningful analysis of what chemicals and other materials might be used during drilling.
Lexam released a statement on Friday expressing their disappointment with the Court’s decision as it prohibits any exploration drilling by the company until a final ruling is reached in the litigation. Lexam officials said they intend to update shareholders on the ongoing litigation once more details become available.
Lexam’s Baca Grant, oil and gas project along the Rocky Mountains is situated on 100,000 acres in south-central Colorado. Lexam owns 75% of the project and 25% is owned by ConocoPhillips.
Images via Wikimedia; Stepan Mazurov