28 Feb 3D Seismic Projects are BACK and Our Watershed Needs You
Delta County published notice of Gunnison Energy’s specific development applications for two 3D seismic mapping projects in the Iron Point and Trail Gulch units north of Paonia in the Delta County Independent on Wednesday, February 20th. The applications became available to the public on Tuesday, February 26th on the County website. Deadline for comments is March 11, which is the same day and time that the Commissioners will be holding a public meeting to determine if the application should proceed administratively.
Background on the seismic mapping projects:
This seismic mapping project has been an ongoing saga, so here’s a brief recap.
The purpose of the seismic mapping projects is for Gunnison Energy to determine gas reserves available and feasible to develop in the upper North Fork Valley watershed. The two projects together will encompass 81.8 square miles in both Delta and Gunnison Counties, and will impact the Clear Fork, Little Muddy, West Muddy, Hubbard Creek, and Terror Creek watersheds. You may recall that last year Gunnison Energy started operations according to its plan proposal submitted to the USFS prior to consulting with or securing county permits from Delta and Gunnison Counties. The Iron Point and Trail Gulch 3D projects have been on hold since late 2018 as the result of the community’s insistence that they go through proper environmental review at both the federal and county levels, but now they’re back. According to Gunnison Energy, it is now simultaneously adhering to all required regulatory processes.
Project Status with the Forest Service:
The USFS is still reviewing both proposals. The Forest Service has stated that it plans to process the projects separately by using a Categorical Exclusion, with some conditions attached. CHC, High Country Conservation Advocates and the community have been vocal in stating that the scope and scale of the projects merit not only joint review as connected actions but also an Environmental Assessment, not a Categorical Exclusion.
Project Status with Delta and Gunnison Counties:
- Delta County: Gunnison Energy originally submitted a 3D application for the Iron Point in October 2018; that application was later modified to a 2D application, when Gunnison Energy withdrew its 3D application from Gunnison County. The 2D project was approved by Delta County and completed in December 2018. The 2D project was on private land only and did not involve the USFS. Delta County submitted comments on the Forest Service version of the 3D application last year.
- Gunnison County: These 3D projects are also under review with Gunnison County, but the Trail Gulch 2D project application was approved on January 2nd. The 2D project has not been completed, to the best of our knowledge. The Gunnison County applications have undergone a similar level of submission, withdrawal, and amendment in Gunnison County as they have in Delta County. Gunnison County has not yet submitted public notice of the projects, and is not yet accepting public comments.
Both of these projects, which would require drilling some roughly 7,000 shot holes across both counties, take place on a mix of private and public lands in Delta County, with the Forest Service managing the public lands. Delta County’s regulations do not allow the County to approve these applications until the State and Federal agencies have weighed in, and the Forest Service has not yet approved their applications.
The Forest Service is still finalizing its Conditions of Approval (COAs) for the projects. This is important because the Delta County applications are heavily reliant on the Forest Service COAs to avoid potential impacts to County resources such as irrigation water supply and infrastructure, steep slopes and geohazards, wildlife, and stream and wetlands.
The updated county applications also fail to address many of the concerns the community raised in earlier comment periods. See original CHC comments, see Delta County approval of 2D application to see how it handled community concerns. They fail to ensure that agriculture in Delta County is properly protected and dismiss potential impacts to irrigation infrastructure. Despite the fact that a significant number of shot holes in the 2D Iron Point project encountered ground water, and roughly 3% of explosives did not detonate (at that rate that could result in 210 explosives failing) neither application contemplates ground water contamination.
Gunnison Energy claims there are no risks from this project, yet it refuses to indemnify or put up a bond for potential damages, it states that it will avoid geohazardous areas which represents about ½ of the project area, yet it has not provided a map of the areas to be avoided. While they have provided a map with slope angles, they have not assessed the risk in these areas. Tell Delta County it needs to do better to protect its citizens.
Comments can be submitted by email to firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail to the Delta County Planning Department at 501 Palmer St., #115, Delta, CO 81416 by March 11th.