MISSION: Southwest Research and Information Center is a multi-cultural organization working to promote the health of people and communities, protect natural resources, ensure citizen participation, and secure environmental and social justice now and for future generations

News from SJCA: Gas Well Adds Water to Navajo Reservoir

Navajo Reservoir straddles the Colorado-New Mexico border on the eastern edge of the oil rich San Juan Basin. Like an oasis, its glistening water attracts thousands of boaters and water lovers from the Four Corners area. In addition, and the San Juan River below the large, earthen dam provides some of the best trout fishing in the area. Irrigators depend on its stable and high quality water for their crops, while residents of Bloomfield and Farmington depend on it for their drinking water. Sadly, the area around Navajo Reservoir is an oasis for the gas industry as well as sportsmen. Wells close to the lake are some of the best producers in the San Juan Basin oil patch.

Widespread gas well development and the lax enforcement of environmental regulations by federal and state agencies pose a threat to Navajo Reservoir and the San Juan River. The Bureau of Land Management, which oversees drilling on federally owned lands, is being pressured to speed up its process for issuing drilling permits. As a result, enforcement and compliance are neglected.

What happened along the Laguna Seca Arm of Navajo Reservoir is typical. In July of this year Williams Production filed a Sundry Notice of Intent with the BLM's Farmington Field Office to stimulate a Fruitland formation coal bed methane well. The well is located on the edge of Laguna Seca draw, only 500' from this arm of Navajo Reservoir. The BLM approved this action on September 12th. Shortly thereafter the well stimulation occurred. (There is no record that a BLM inspector observed this process.)

During the stimulation process a large amount of liquid was sprayed over a steep hillside near the well and allowed to run across the well access road, over a rock ledge and into the Laguna Seca Arm. This was a direct violation of the well permit conditions yet it went unnoticed until a member of SJCA discovered it while checking his pastures. The Application for Permit to Drill explicitly states that: "All liquid waste, completion fluids and drilling products associated with oil and gas operations will be contained." Also, during this process the operator built an unlined pit to capture some of the run-off water, which also violated permit conditions. The permit Conditions of Approval lay out special stipulations for this site. One of the stipulations is that: "Pits will be lined with an impervious material at least 8 mils thick." Because no BLM inspector was present, no one knows how much liquid spilled into Navajo Reservoir, nor what chemicals or pollutants were in it.

What happened here may seem to be a minor violation, but they occur over and over again at thousands of wells in the San Juan Basin. Over time, spills like these combined with other impacts such as erosion will have a detrimental affect on Navajo Reservoir and the San Juan River and thus on the people in the Basin who depend on these waters.

— Alan Rolston

The San Juan Citizens Alliance organizes for the land and people of the San Juan Basin. Our major projects are protecting the Wild San Juans and advocating greater corporate and governmental responsibility in development of oil and gas resources in the San Juan Basin.

The San Juan Basin possesses some of the richest oil and gas reserves in North America. While their development benefits both the national and local economies, all of the negative effects are borne by the people and land of the San Juans. The Alliance is a nationally recognized voice for greater corporate and governmental responsibility in the development of natural gas.

They can be reached at: San Juan Citizens Alliance
PO Box 2461
Durango, CO 81302
phone: (970) 259-3583

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"Look at the land. Our grandfather lived here. So do we. It is our land here, her we used to live. Stranger, touring around you will not come, you will not come. We lived over these hills, we still do, because the forest is our life."
--Huaorani chant,
translated by Laura Rival

"I want to stamp on the ground hard enough to make that oil come out. I want to skip the legalities, permits, red tape, and other obstacles. I want to go immediately and straight to what matters: getting that oil."
--Rick Bass,
Petroleum Geologist

1989, taken from Amazon Crude, Judith Kimerling

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