01 May Proposed Somerset Unit Drilling Plan Puts Water, Wildlife, & Recreation at Risk
May 1, 2014 –
Documents Obtained Through FOIA Requests & Appeals Reveal Extent of Proposed Industrialization of Prized Pilot Knob Roadless Area
A few miles northeast of the town of Paonia lies the untouched Pilot Knob Roadless Area. The landscape is dynamic, with rolling oakbrush hills, towering aspen stands, and impressive views of the rugged Raggeds Mountain range.
Recently obtained documents reveal the massive extent of proposed new gas development for this area, which has been targeted for 50 new gas wells. Many of these documents were obtained through numerous Freedom of Information Act requests by Citizens for a Healthy Community and our conservation partners at High Country Conservation Advocates, the Western Environmental Law Center, and Wilderness Workshop.
The area is important for North Fork communities’ clean water that is used for agriculture downstream. Furthermore, the area provides a valuable backcountry hunting experience on public lands before elk move onto private lands at lower elevations in winter. It is also key habitat for mule deer, black bear, mountain lions, and is calving and winter range for elk.
An old dirt road adjacent to the
roadless area that would be used
for the proposed development
is barely large enough to
accommodate a pickup, let alone
an 18-wheeler needed to haul water
and equipment to the well pads.
Recently obtained documents show that this area is proposed to undergo large-scale natural gas development. Petrox Resources, Inc. has proposed a 6,400 acre Master Development Plan that includes 25 new well pads and up to 50 new gas wells, miles of new roads and pipelines that would crisscross the National Forest, as well as other related infrastructure. The end result would be the industrialization of this pristine landscape.
A report conducted for Sportsman for Responsible Energy Development concludes that counties in the West with higher percentage of public lands managed for conservation and recreation report higher levels of job and population growth than those with higher percentage of lands managed for commodity production. In fact, Delta and Gunnison counties received combined economic benefits of approximately $80.9 million in 2007 from hunting and fishing activities that support an estimated 912 jobs, according to a 2008 report.
But wait – if this is a roadless area, how can the Forest Service even entertain a proposal that would destroy that very quality? Sometimes roadless areas rest above leased minerals and are still open to oil and gas, mining, and timber development. Here, the Pilot Knob Roadless Area sits above minerals that were leased for development in 2001. Unless there’s increased protection for roadless areas, they can still be subject to road-building and oil and gas development.
Previously, in fall 2013, the Forest Service decided that this project could proceed under normal environmental review, despite the fact that this project is located in a supposedly protected roadless area. The Forest Service, which is the lead federal agency on this project, could initiate a public scoping comment period as soon as this summer. This public comment period could address other roadless area drilling projects in the area, including five new gas wells on the eastern edge of the Pilot Knob, and five new wells in the Huntsman area of the Thompson Divide. Both projects were proposed by the Houston-based company S.G. Interests. CHC will keep you informed about this proposed project and opportunities to take action.
Documents Related to the 50 Gas Well Petrox Somerset Unit Master Development Plan
- The Somerset Unit Work Map, which details well pad location, proposed road improvements and new road building, pipeline locations, and other wells in the region.
- A map of the proposed Somerset Unit Master Development Plan, and proposed S.G. Interests wells in the National Forest, created by the Forest Service and obtained by our conservation partners at High Country Conservation Advocates.
- The Somerset Unit Master Surface Use Plan of Operations.
- A map of the proposed location of the Somerset Unit 12-90 16-1 well pad.
- A map of the proposed location of the Somerset Unit 12-90 22-1 well pad.
- BLM FOIA Appeal Decision.
- A map of the proposed route for a Somerset Pipeline that would run from the unit to Garfield County.
- A Forest Service PowerPoint Presentation from Nov. 2013 , obtained by our partners at Wilderness Workshop.
Google Map of the Proposed Somerset Unit Master Development Plan