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Drilling Proposal Near Bitter Lakes Refuge Protested

May 6, 2003
Tania Soussan, Albuquerque Journal
In This Release
Climate + Energy, Wildlife  
#EndangeredSpeciesAct, #KeepItInTheGround
A federal plan that sets guidelines for almost 100 new oil and gas wells near Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge could harm sensitive wildlife, an environmental group has charged.

WildEarth Guardians recently appealed the Bureau of Land Management’s conclusion that the oil and gas development would cause no “undue or unnecessary environmental degradation.”

“We have an ecological oasis to protect here,” said conservation biologist Hamilton Smith of WildEarth Guardians. “The refuge maintains the last remaining habitat for several incredibly rare species, and is also a resource which provides a unique educational experience for visitors.”

The BLM’s Roswell field office earlier this year finalized a “Habitat Protection Zone” that will guide development of up to 91 new wells on 19 existing oil and gas leases.

As part of that plan, the agency mapped the sources of spring water for Bitter Lake. Drill bores for oil and gas wells near those water sources must include a steel casing cemented in place to protect against pollution of the aquifer, said Howard Parman, planning and environmental coordinator for the BLM.

The agency did an environmental assessment and concluded there would be no significant impact on the aquatic species or habitats, according to the appeal.

WildEarth Guardians appealed that decision to the Interior Department’s Board of Land Appeals.

The area is dotted with underground caves, and wells drilled there could leak oil, chemicals and other contaminants into the ground water and flood plain that feed Bitter Lake or could alter the region’s hydrology, according to the appeal.

“There is clear evidence that further review of ground-water impacts is required,” Smith said.

Copyright 2005 Albuquerque Journal – Reprinted with permission