Natural gas project proposed in county


Staff Writer

A legal notice has been printed in the Pagosa Springs SUN notifying the public of a comment opportunity concerning a proposal for natural gas extraction in the North Carracas area of the Southern Ute Indian Reservation.

The proposed area natural gas development would take place in the North Carracas area of the Southern Ute Indian Reservation, an 18,123-acre parcel of land located primarily in Archuleta County. The area is north of the New Mexico border, and south and east of Navajo Reservoir.

The area of mutual interest (AMI) consists of Tribal Trust, Indian-owned fee, United States Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) and non-Indian owned fee lands.

According to the Preliminary Environmental Assessment submitted by the U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the Tres Rios Field Office and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), and the Southern Ute Agency, there are two alternative actions for the natural gas proposal.

The first alternative offered is to go forward without any action. “This would be a continuation of present management related to natural gas development in the North Carracas area. The Plan of Development would not be implemented. Development of fee mineral reserves in adjoining areas could drain Tribal reserves over the long term, resulting in lost Tribal Revenue and the permanent loss of the Tribe’s resources.”

The second action for the proposal reads, “This alternative proposes to develop natural gas development in the North Carracas area in accordance with the proposed North Carracas Plan of Development. The Plan of Development contemplates drilling 48 Fruitland coalbed methane wells located on 18 well pads utilizing horizontal and vertical drilling and completion techniques, one saltwater disposal well, associated roads and pipelines, and a compressor facility.”

The legal notice also states that the purpose of the proposed action plan is to, “allow extraction, in an efficient and environmentally compatible manner, of the recoverable natural gas reserves known to exist in mineral estates held in trust by the United States for the economic benefit of the Southern Ute Indian Tribe. Additionally, the purpose of the action is to avoid long-term natural gas reserve drainage from wells located and completed on adjoining privately owned lands, which could potentially drain Tribal reserves and result in permanent loss of Tribal resources and associated revenue.”

In 2007, in compliance with the Indian Mineral Development Act of 1952, the Southern Ute Indian Tribe (suit) entered in to a Non-Development Minerals Agreement (NDMA) as Red Willow Production Company. According to Red Willow’s website, the purpose of the company is to, “Maximize the benefits to the Southern Ute Tribe and its members and, at the same time, carefully manage the environmental impacts of its successful oil and gas production operation.”

Currently, the San Juan Basin represents 55 percent of Red Willow’s production. Red Willow is also partnered with operators including BP, Elm Ridge, ConocoPhillips and Energen in the San Juan Basin. On the Southern Ute Indian Reservation, Red Willow operates more than 400 wells, with production primarily being coal bed methane from the Fruitland Coal. Red Willow continues to focus on new areas of development such as projects in West Texas, as well as exploration in the Deepwater Gulf of Mexico.

According to the Preliminary Environmental Assessment (EA), the drilling and initial development in Archuleta County is proposed to occur over an estimated four- to five-year period. This timeline and completion time, however, would be influenced by the price of natural gas.

Development would include well-stimulation treatments such as hydraulic fracturing (commonly known as fracking) to treat the wells during completion in order to improve resource recovery. This process maximizes the extraction of underground resources by allowing the oil or natural gas to flow from the rock pores to the production wells more freely while being brought to the surface.

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, fracking occurs when water and chemical additives are pumped into geological formations at high pressure and, after completion, approximately 60 to 80 percent of the fluids are returned to the wellbore.

Out of the proposed 48 Fruitland coalbed methane wells, 39 would be horizontal wells, horizontally drilled at an approximate range of 1,300 to 3,000 feet in vertical depth to reach the target coal zone. Another nine wells would be drilled non-horizontally at a vertical depth of 1,300 to 3,000 feet.

The 39 horizontal wells are not proposed for fracking. The other nine horizontal wells would require fracking. As part of the proposal, it is required for the operator to disclose the chemical components used in the method to the Tribe, the BLM and the BIA.

According to SUIT, in order to minimize surface disturbances, they propose to utilize two existing pads, drill multiple new wells from individual well pads, and  use existing corridors for flow lines and access roads.

A pipeline gathering system used to transport both gas and water will be constructed. The gathering system is approximately 3.9 miles in length and is proposed to cross under the San Juan River. According to the EA, the total estimated disturbance associated with the pipeline gathering system would be approximately 71.5 acres.

Access roads totalling 4.5 miles would be constructed under the proposed action. It is proposed that the roads would be located and designed to minimize impacts to environmental resources. Along with the construction of roads, a bridge would be constructed over the San Juan River to access the well pads.

All wells, access roads, and pipelines would be subject to cultural and environmental assessment at the time of grant submittal.

According to the EA,  total  estimated long-term surface disturbance associated with the proposed North Carracas plan of development is 76.71 acres.

The BLM and BIA began accepting public comments on a plan of development Preliminary Assessment Plan addressing the proposed natural gas development in the North Carracas area of the Southern Ute Reservation on June 1, for a 30-day public comment period. According to the SUIT growth fund, the public comment is a scoping process, “Used to invite public participation, to help identify public issues, and to obtain public comment at various stages of the environmental analysis process.” The scoping will identify issues such as:

“• Tribal outreach concerning proposed actions.

• Air quality impacts.

• Potential water depletion impacts.

• Drill cuttings and disposal.

• Potential impacts to recreation resources along Navajo Lake Reservoir.

• Surface and groundwater protection.”

For more information, visit the website at or contact the BLM project manager, Brad Dodd, at (970) 385-1378.