USFW Finds ‘No Significant Impact’ of Drilling on Baca Refuge; Lexam Given Green Light?

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“On Wednesday, October 22, 2008 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) released a Final Environmental Assessment for the Planned Gas and Oil Exploration on Baca National Wildlife Refuge, Saguache County, Colorado (Final EA) authorizing the Canadian firm Lexam Explorations (U.S.A.) Inc. to drill two exploratory ‘gas’ wells on the Baca National Wildlife Refuge in the San Luis Valley, Colorado.

‘The Bush administration’s decision to authorize gas exploration on the Baca refuge just two weeks before the election and while the administration itself is in its final months in office is very disappointing, but not surprising.’ said Christine Canaly, San Luis Valley Ecosystem (SLVEC) Director.

An environmental analysis was conducted by the USFWS in response to a lawsuit filed by SLVEC against USFWS. In November of 2007, Colorado Federal District Court Judge Walker D. Miller ruled that the USFWS ‘shall prohibit all ground disturbing activities related to the exploration and development of the mineral estate underlying the Baca National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) during the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process.’ During litigation, the agency agreed to comply with NEPA and conduct an environmental analysis. SLVEC’s lawsuit is still pending.

‘While the agency’s Final EA includes conditions and protective measures on Lexam’s drilling operation that were not in the draft assessment,’ said Canaly, ‘we still have many concerns about the scope and sufficiency of the agency’s analysis. The agency appears to have ignored public concerns about wetlands, noise, cumulative impacts, and purchase (and retirement) of the mineral interests lying beneath the public lands complex.'”

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