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News from SJCA: Ranchers Battle with Gas Developers

Linn and Tweeti Blancett are sixth generation ranchers in northern New Mexico's San Juan Basin and they hope their grandkids will be the eighth generation. The Blancett' s and their forebears have been ranching this land near Aztec for over 100 years. Like all ranchers, the Blancett's battle droughts, winter weather, and fluctuating cattle prices. However, unlike many western cattle ranchers, the Blancett's contend with the everyday, detrimental impacts of the Basin's oil and gas industry.

The Blancett's ranch operation lies in the heart of northern New Mexico's gas patch; a mixture of public and privately owned land overrun by more than 500 active gas wells. Each well pad and access road gobbles up about 3 acres of their grazing land and over the past 10 years the Bureau of Land Management has decreased the number of cattle permitted on their federal range land leases. Gas gathering and distribution pipelines transect their property everywhere. Because the BLM has not emphasized compliance, many of the pipeline rights of way have never been successfully reclaimed, leaving large strips of noxious weeds that have spread to the adjoining range land. Access roads are usually poorly constructed, with steep grades and improper or no drainage structures for rainwater or snowmelt. Sporadic maintenance results in roads with cavernous ruts that make them almost impassable even to 4-wheel drive vehicles. When the access roads are muddy, industry service rigs and trucks often drive on the adjacent pasture land which is drier and offers better traction. In effect, roads exceed the widths prescribed in BLM management plans and well permits.

Erosion from roads and un-reclaimed well pads greatly increases the sediment loads of the Animas and San Juan Rivers. Such sediment loading will eventually impact the municipal and agricultural users who depend heavily on these streams for drinking water and crop water.

At the well pads, reserve pits, compressors, well heads, tank pits, and de-hydrators are unfenced or so poorly fenced that cattle and wildlife can drink from the pits and drip pans. The motor drip pans contain a mixture of ethylene glycol and water, a sweet tasting beverage that can kill livestock and wildlife. Well reserve pits contain fluids with high concentrations of hydro-carbons, which can also kill cattle and wildlife. The Blancett's lose several cows a year due to these hazards. Since well operators are reluctant to pay for livestock losses and require proof that the animal was killed as a result of their operations, the Blancetts' must have each animal autopsied and examined for hydrocarbon residues and cause of death. In addition to these direct costs, the Blancett's spend several hours of their time each week negotiating with the individual well operators, attending mediation meetings between BLM permittees, company lawyers and BLM personnel trying to resolve these problems.

Tweeti is a member of SJCA's Oil & Gas Task Force because she firmly believes that ranchers and environmentalists must work together to ensure that good stewardship occurs on public and private lands despite the tremendous pressure to develop petroleum resources no matter what the cost.

— 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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