Lawsuit challenges HD wells

Drilling in the HD Mountains just east of Bayfield suffered a major setback recently. Last week, two area landowners and a local conservation group filed a lawsuit requesting an immediate stop to the drilling of two coalbed methane wells in the HDs. They cited health and safety concerns and accused the Forest Service of acting in an illegal manner. The plaintiffs expected the judge to grant the injunction this week.

The two wells were recently authorized by the San Juan National Forest and the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission and are located less than 1 mile from the Fruitland formation outcrop. The location is widely recognized for its potential to cause hazardous levels of methane contamination in nearby homes, methane seeps that kill vegetation, and damage to domestic water wells and springs. Concern about drilling wells on the outcrop spurred unanimous resolutions against such wells from numerous local governments in 2004.

The lawsuit filed by San Juan Citizens Alliance and two local landowners, Bill Vance and Julie Vance, charges the Forest Service violated the law by approving the two wells without completing an analysis of environmental consequences and alternatives. The coalbed methane wells are located in Fosset Gulch, just east of the HD Mountains, which are at the center of a much larger controversial proposal for many additional gas wells.

“The company has already cut trees on national forest land in preparation for clearing well pads and access roads,” said Brad Bartlett, attorney for San Juan Citizens Alliance and the Vances. “We have asked the court for an immediate injunction to stop construction and drilling until the court can carefully review the merits of the case. Given the complete failure by the Forest Service to perform basic environmental analysis before approving these wells, we are confident we will prevail in court.”

The Vances fear the impacts on their homes and water wells if Petrox Resources proceeds with drilling. “The Forest Service hydrologists have already said that drilling on the outcrop will likely cause methane contamination in nearby homes,” said Bill Vance. “Both my home and my sister’s home are located right next to the outcrop. We are concerned both for the health of our families and the safety of our property.”

Mark Pearson, executive director of San Juan Citizens Alliance, concurred, saying, “This is a rash and flagrant disregard of common sense and basic environmental laws, to approve these two wells, knowing full well that the likely consequences could include hazardous levels of methane contamination in nearby homes.”

As in every case involving litigation, the Forest Service was mum. “We cannot comment because the issue is in litigation,” said Ann Bond, San Juan National Forest spokeswoman.

Colorado oil & gas boom continues

Meanwhile the oil and gas boom is continuing in Colorado. Federal oil and gas leasing revenues have risen 22 percent in the state, according to a recent Bureau of Land Management report. Colorado also saw an $89 million jump in royalties, largely due to new drilling in the Western Slope’s Piceance Basin.

Colorado leads the nation in coal-bed methane development, accounting for 31 percent of total national production. Most of that natural gas can be traced back to wells in La Plata County. New Mexico was second with 28 percent of national coal-bed methane production.

In spite of the boom, many industry executives say there are too many restrictions on oil and gas development. Mark Smith, executive director of the Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States, told theDenver Post, “I think special-interest groups are trying harder than ever to stop development throughout the West. The federal regulatory process for development on federal lands invites second guessing and litigation.”


Fort Lewis hosts Tibetan monks

Durango will get a strong taste of Tibetan culture in the coming week. Tibetan monks will build sand mandalas at the

Fort Lewis College Center of Southwest Studies in the coming week. The public is encouraged to attend the free event.

“Mandala” literally means “that which extracts the essence,” and Tibetan Buddhists use many different types of mandalas. The monks that will visit Durango will construct twodimensional sand mandalas, considered the most creative, laborintensive and concentrationintensive of all mandalas. Each mandala represents the architectural layout of the entire palace of a specific deity. There are multilayered, symbolic images throughout the “palace,” where iconography, placement and color all have significance. Additionally, to the learned Tibetan Buddhist monk, the mandala represents his vision of the entire universe. The mandala is normally used during the initiation of a monk into a high form of meditation.

The sand is applied very precisely by the gentle tapping of a sandfilled metal cone that has had its tip removed. Upon completion of the mandala, the monks will purposely destroy the magnificent work of art, reflecting the Buddha’s final words, “All things are impermanent, work out your salvation with diligence.” In upholding the principle that life is transient, the monks sweep up the mandala and place it in a body of water.

In addition to the sand mandala building, the visiting monks will give presentations on traditional Tibetan dance and music. The Center of Southwest Studies Exhibit Gallery is hosting the “Circle of the Spirit: Navajo and Tibetan Wisdom for Living” exhibit through Oct. 21. The mandala construction will take place June 21-23 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day.

Plague lingers in La Plata County

Plague is continuing to prompt concerns in La Plata County. The San Juan Basin Health Department is still urging residents and visitors to take precautions to protect themselves and their pets against plague.

Last week, the first cat in the region was diagnosed with the disease, following the first human case last month. The cat, which resides on County Road 203, contracted the bubonic form of plague, a highly infectious bacterial disease spread by rodents’ fleas. After the human case in May, a cooperative environmental assessment showed that a high percentage of the fleas collected in the rodent population of the Animas Mountain area tested positive for the plague. Signs were posted warning hikers of the disease.  

“This new case demonstrates that the plague is still present and conditions are right this year for further infection to humans and pets because of our drought recovery and the cyclic nature plague has,” said Deb Banton, director of Personal Health Services with the health department.

Cats with bubonic plague usually have fever, tiredness, no appetite and 75 percent have swollen glands under their chin or in their neck. Simple precautions, including avoiding contact with rodents, using insect repellents and keeping pets confined to their property, are recommended.

For more information, call the health department at 247-5702 or visit

-compiled by Will Sands



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