July 7, 2008

Basin Major Source Of Wells

By Raam Wong Journal Staff Writer

The region where a Texas oil and gas company wants to drill south of Santa Fe contains scores of domestic water wells serving nearby villages, according to a report released Thursday.

The report -- released under the auspices of the state Energy, Minerals, Natural Resources Department -- found that "Galisteo Basin is not only a major source basin for the Rio Grande, but is also the only source of domestic water for much of the recent population growth in Santa Fe County."

The report was ordered by Gov. Bill Richardson in January following a public outcry over Tecton Energy's proposal to drill for oil and gas on the archaeologically rich, watershort Galisteo Basin in southeastern Santa Fe County.

Richardson imposed a sixmonth moratorium on drilling in the basin and ordered state agencies to gather information on the potential impact of drilling in the region. Thursday's 77-page report, available online, is the result of that effort.

While the report provides little new information on an issue that has largely been researched extensively by drilling opponents, it does highlight the possible pitfalls of drilling and what various agencies can do to avoid them.

The Office of the State Engineer reported that the 730 -square- mile Galisteo Basin watershed is a subbasin within the Rio Grande Basin and is part of the of the Rio Grande Underground Water Basin, which is administered by the State Engineer. Galisteo Creek, an ephemeral stream, flows from the southern end of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to the Rio Grande near Santo Domingo Pueblo.

The highest density of water wells in the area is located in the central portion of the watershed between Cerrillos and Lamy, a region that has seen the most focus to date from energy interests, according to the State Engineer. The office said it was important that a site-specific hydrology analysis be done to ensure that any drilling not pollute fresh water supplies.

The report also highlighted areas in which drilling critics say state oil and gas regulations fall short. For instance, the Oil Conservation Division does not have rules regarding setbacks of drilling operations from homes, other buildings or archaeological sites.

In its part of the report, the EMNRD, which oversees OCD, recommends that local governments adopt ordinances concerning setbacks, noise and air pollution.

T h e r e c o m m e n d at io n appears to lend support to drilling moratoriums enacted this year by the counties of Santa Fe and Rio Arriba in response to controversial energy exploration proposals. Both counties say they need more time to write comprehensive oil and gas rules before considering drilling applications. But Approach Resources, which is proposing to explore in the water-rich mountains around Tierra Amarilla, is challenging Rio Arriba's moratorium in court, saying drilling rules are the responsibility of the state, not the county.

EMNRD is also recommending that current rules be changed so that OCD evaluate the cumulative impacts of drilling on an area, instead of considering applications simply on a well-by-well basis. The agency and several others in the report are recommending that the state extend its moratorium by at least another six months to further study the issue. The governor's moratorium ends July 24, while the county's expires in February 2009.

The state Department of Cultural Affairs, meanwhile, is concerned about the 3,000 archaeological sites and 160 historic structures known to exist in the region.

"The Galisteo Basin holds some of the nation's most dramatic archaeological evidence of indigenous lifeways and early historic contacts between indigenous peoples and European explorers and colonists," Cultural Affairs reported. A congressionally mandated study and inventory of the basin's historic treasures has yet to be funded by the Bush administration, according to Cultural Affairs.

The state Department of Health also weighed in about health affects associated with oil and gas, including significantly elevated rates of asthma and cardiovascular disease, while the state Department of Indian Affairs described concerns raised by several pueblos over the potential destruction of archaeological sites.

Also participating in the report were the Environment, Game and Fish, Agriculture and Tourism departments.

T he r ep or t i s ava i lable o n l i n e at www.emnrd.state.nm.us.

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