Letter to BLM from Be The Change

We are simply flummoxed by the BLM’s approach in the oil and gas lease
sale EA, DOI-BLM-CO-200-2011-0057.  This document would facilitate the
sale of roughly 32 thousand acres of publicly owned mineral rights
within the eastern slope of this state at auction in November 2011.

We spent considerable time over the last few months with members of
your agency explaining why incremental analysis of oil and gas
development through fracking is a disservice to the people of this
state, for by so doing it blinds the agency to the cumulative impacts
of its actions.  Lest you think we exaggerate, contemplate that within
Colorado almost 5 million acres of federal land have already been
leased to the oil and gas industry, effectively giving them dominion
over this land. This is a landmass the size of the state of New
Jersey.  Yet, no analysis of what this might mean to the social and
environmental values the people of this state hold dear has been
undertaken.  None is even planned.

Clearly fracking is a massive enterprise requiring great quantities of
fresh water, the conversion of large areas of rural land to industrial
use, thousands of miles of new roads and pipelines to move the oil and
gas to market, and the treatment and/or disposal of billions of
gallons of water contaminated through the fracking process.  And those
are just the starters.  To turn a blind eye to these inevitabilities
is inexcusable and in contravention of federal law and the agency's
own policy standards.   Some particulars:

The BLM claims at the outset of the EA that prior to offering public
lands and mineral estates for lease sale, it obligates each of its
Field Offices to  “... review the legal descriptions of the parcels to
determine if they are in areas open to leasing; if appropriate
stipulations have been included; if new information has become
available which might change any analysis conducted during the
planning process; if appropriate consultations have been conducted,
and if there are special resource conditions of which potential
bidders should be made aware.” (Emphasis added, EA at page 1)

Let us review how effectively you’ve satisfied these self-imposed
requirements.  First the requirement to evaluate new information that
was not available during the original evaluation phase has simply been
breezed over entirely.  Thus the document is clearly inadequate by its
own definitions and standards.

For example, since publication of the Royal Gorge Resource Management
Plan in 1996, unique and previously unknown methods of oil and gas
recovery have emerged.  The use of the combined new technologies of
exploiting unconventional oil and gas formations by combining
horizontal drilling and fracking has allowed previously unrecoverable
fossil fuels to become economically recoverable.  You neither mention
nor evaluate this technology.  Yet, without its development there
would be no demand on the public’s mineral resources contained in
these deep shale formations, as there wasn’t when the 1996 RMP was
written.


In Park County, which is of considerable interest to us since it is
the source of Denver’s water supply, the BLM is certainly aware of the
2010 Applications for Permit to Drill (APDs) by El Paso Exploration
and Production Company for several horizontal wells using fracking
within state-managed James Mark Jones State Wildlife Area (JMJSWA) in
Park County and on adjacent BLM lands.  Indeed, BLM, as it shows on
its own website, is currently in the process of preparing an EA on El
Paso’s APD in Park County which identifies this targeted
unconventional formation and this unique drilling method, yet
incomprehensibly, this EA makes no mention of this current
information.

This proposed November lease sale would offer up to bid roughly 13,000
acres of public land, some of it near to and adjacent to the JMJSWA.
(Park County parcels 5979, 5980, and 5981.)  Based on El Paso’s prior
APDs to both BLM and the State of Colorado, the targeted formation is
known--it is the Niobrara Formation, an unconventional formation only
recently determined to be economically recoverable as a result of
using the new techniques of horizontal drilling with fracking.  The
Niobrara Formation was unsuccessfully drilled in Park County the 1970s
using the then common method of vertical drilling without fracking.
Elsewhere in Colorado, particularly in Weld County, the Niobrara
Formation has proven to be a viable source of both oil and natural gas
solely due to the application of horizontal drilling combined with
fracking.  Despite the availability of this new information, the BLM
has produced an EA, which fails to analyze, 1) the targeted
formations, and 2) the new method of using high volume fracking in
horizontal wells to develop these targeted formations.   Neither does
it analysis the impacts of adding another 13,000 acres of rural land
to the roughly 80,000 acre of public land already leased to the oil
industry in South Park.  Clearly these transfers of interest and
effective ownership from the public to the private for a pittance are
significant by any reasonable yardstick.

 Also, new information has recently become available regarding the
toxic components of hydraulic fracking fluids.  Fracking fluids
contain breaking agents, biocides, acids, surfactants and other toxic
compounds which are returned to the surface.  (See for example,
Chemicals Used in Hydraulic Fracturing, House Committee on Energy and
Commerce, Minority Staff, April 2011.)   According to this report:
“The most widely used chemical in hydraulic fracturing during this
time period, as measured by the number of compounds containing the
chemical, was methanol.  Methanol, which was used in 342 hydraulic
fracturing products, is a hazardous air pollutant and is on the
candidate list for potential regulation under the Safe Drinking Water
Act.  Some of the other most widely used chemicals were isopropyl
alcohol (used in 274 products), 2-butoxyethanol (used in 126
products), and ethylene glycol (used in 119 products).”  The EA
neither mentions nor evaluates the prospect of these chemicals being
used and their impact on water supplies and air quality.

While the BLM Field Office is apparently blind to the environmental
risks of fracking fluids contaminating ground waters, the need to
further improve the safety of these modern techniques is currently
under investigation by three parts of the executive branch: the
Interior Department, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the
Department of Energy.  Yet the EA makes no mention of this new
information despite citizens and other parties providing such
information directly to BLM officials regarding prior lease sales in
Park County (personal communication by Wes Wilson with BLM FO Director
Keith Burger, April 2011 Fairplay, Colorado.)

Appropriate stipulations have neither been analyzed nor included.
Since publication of the RMP in 1996 in response to industry’s new
drilling techniques of horizontal drilling using fracking, the State
of Colorado has altered its oil and gas industry regulations.  Among
the changes included in the State’s rules is the ability of the State
to define ‘sensitive areas’ which then require the use of ‘green
completions’.  Since the leases in Park County are in the headwaters
of the City of Denver’s water supply, the application of Colorado’s
‘green completion’ rules in this sensitive area should have been
investigated as a BLM lease condition.  Green completions require the
use of tanks and reclaimers in lieu of the common practice of open pit
disposal of flow back and production fluids. (See Colorado Oil and Gas
Conservation Commission at COGCC Rule 801.b.)  This EA fails to
address any of this new information that has become available, in
particular, how this information might affect lease stipulations.
Lease stipulations can only be applied prior to sale. Failure to
address additional lease stipulations prior to sale constitutes an
irretrievable commitment of resources and thus does not comply with
BLM’s NEPA obligations.

Appropriate consultations have not been conducted despite the policy
the BLM do so.  According to page 2 of this EA: “Those agencies
contacted directly to identify issues included the Colorado Division
of Wildlife, The Colorado State Historic Preservation Office and 15
Native American tribes.”  Thus, apparently, consultation has not taken
place with any of following relevant and affected governmental
parties: the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, the
Colorado Department of Health and the Environment, the City and County
of Denver, the Denver Water Department, nor Park County officials.
Neither has coordination with the Colorado Water Conservation Board
been undertaken.  Such coordination is extremely important to the
basin studies being conducted of each river basin in the state for
water use and availability.  The potential demand and existing water
use for fracking and its sources, or lack thereof, in an already over
appropriated system should at least be admitted, quantified, and
analyzed in general terms.

In this regard, the state of Pennsylvania recently estimated that over
1.3 billion gallons of wastewater had been produced from fracking over
the past 3 years in that state.  Though fracking is still in its
infancy, this is enough water to satisfy the domestic needs of 15,000
people annually.  In the water short west can we really afford this
sort of single purpose use?  Moreover, if the fracking water is to be
reused, rather than injected into to deep wells as is the general
practice out west, who is to pay and what would be the costs?  Is it
even feasible on such a massive scale?  The EA does not even admit to
these eventualities.

Moreover, and perhaps most importantly, the water use needed for full
development as seen by the industry is astronomical, indeed physically
impossible in our estimation.  Dave Neslin, the head of the Colorado
Oil and Gas Commission last month told Congress there were over 40,000
operative wells in Colorado.  A hydrologist for the industry stated at
a public hearing, very recently, that the industry expected to drill
60,000 new wells over the next twenty years.  If all these wells are
fracked on a two to three year cycle, as is the practice to keep them
productive, by 2030 we might reasonably see an annual demand of up to
100,000 acre feet, enough water for the domestic needs of a million
people for into the foreseeable future.  The BLM needs to tell the
people of its role in this self-imposed blindness with regard to the
future.

Based on NEPA case law, there are four criteria for reviewing an
agency decision to forego preparation of an EIS: (1) whether the
agency took a "hard look" at the problem; (2) whether the agency
identified the relevant areas of environmental concern; (3) as to the
problems studied and identified, whether the agency made a convincing
case that the impact was insignificant; and (4) if there was impact of
true significance, whether the agency convincingly established that
the changes in the project sufficiently reduced it to a minimum."
Cabinet Mountains Wilderness v. Peterson, 685 F. 2d 678, 682 (D.C.
Cir.1982).   This EA has not taken the requisite ‘hard look’ at the
problem, failed to identify the areas of relevant environmental
concern, even those expressly made by the U.S. Congress and three
cabinet-level branches of the federal government, and thus has not
made a convincing case that the impacts will be insignificant.  The
BLM Canon City Field Office has failed to meet its obligations under
NEPA. This EA should be withdrawn and the proposed action delayed
until the BLM complies with its NEPA obligations.

We are attaching our original comments on fracking sent to you over a
month ago along with our comments to the Washington office on this
subject as well.  We hope they may yet prove useful.

Respectfully,

Phil Doe
Environmental Issues Director
Be the Change
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