BLM working on plan for San Juan Basin - discovery of natural gas bodes well for energy in the future


K-USA TV, Denver

FARMINGTON, N.M. (AP) - The San Juan Basin in northwest New Mexico and southwest Colorado contains twice as much undiscovered natural gas as scientists once believed, according to a new study.

A new geologic assessment by the U.S. Geological Survey found 50.6 trillion cubic feet of undiscovered natural gas in the 7,800-square-mile basin. The previous estimate was 21 trillion cubic feet.

Bob Gallagher, president of the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association, said the study supports what the industry has been saying about the basin.

"For the foreseeable future, New Mexico is in a leading role in providing energy in the United States," he said. "What this means to the state of New Mexico is an extended period of time when they can continue to count on the oil and gas industry to be one of the leading financial providers in the state."

San Juan Basin oil and gas wells generate $325 million in federal royalties. Half of that goes to New Mexico.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management's Farmington office is working on a plan to manage the expected increase in oil and gas wells in the area.

The New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology has projected that there will be an additional 12,500 wells in the basin over the next two decades. There are currently about 18,000 producing wells in the basin.

The BLM's preferred management plan aims to "minimizing surface disturbance" by using new technology to reduce the size of well pads, combining oil and gas operations where possible, putting some new pipelines along existing roads and other measures.

But environmental and citizen groups say air quality will suffer from additional well field compressors.

"It's all going to contribute to the air pollution problem pretty immensely," said Alan Rolston, an organizer for the Durango, Colo.-based San Juan Citizens Alliance.

The Farmington area is close to exceeding federal ozone limits, and both volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides are precursors to ground-level ozone pollution.

Gallagher argued that new technology allows compressors to run more cleanly.

Ranchers in the area are worried that increased traffic across their private land and leaseholds will damage the rangeland.

Ranchers typically hold only the surface rights to grazing land leased from the federal government, while the government retains subsurface mineral rights.

Environmentalists, such as Forest Guardians of Santa Fe, said the plan will harm wildlife by allowing increased habitat fragmentation.

The BLM acknowledged that the new development would probably reduce habitat for mule deer, elk, pronghorn and breeding birds.

A final BLM proposal and environmental impact statement is expected in March.


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