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Oil and Gas Development Threatens Bitter Lakes-WildEarth Guardians Appeal to Save Endangered Species and Unique Aquatic Habitat

May 1, 2003
WildEarth Guardians
In This Release
Climate + Energy, Wildlife   Koster’s springsnail, Noel’s amphipod, Pecos assiminea
#EndangeredSpeciesAct, #KeepItInTheGround
Albuquerque, NM – WildEarth Guardians has appealed to the Interior Board of Land Appeals a Bureau of Land Management plan that would pave the way for dozens of new oil and gas wells immediately adjacent to the Bitter Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, in southeastern New Mexico. WildEarth Guardians alleges that any oil and gas development within the source water area for the Refuge would put at risk rare species, found only in the pristine waters and associated habitats of the Refuge.

The plan, whose purpose is to ensure protection of the source water for the Refuge, is a proclamation that ninety new oil and gas wells in the headwaters of the refuge will have no significant impact on native wildlife or aquatic habitats. Notwithstanding the potential for severe environmental impacts, the BLM has decided not to prepare a thorough environmental impact statement.

“We have an ecological oasis to protect here. 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.” says Hamilton Smith of WildEarth Guardians. “The Bush Administration’s push for oil and gas development at all costs imperils Bitter Lakes and the rare native wildlife that depend on it,” added Smith.

The plan supports development without accurate assessment of cumulative impacts of numerous well holes drilled through a shallow surface aquifer and a deep aquifer. The environmental assessment describes the known threats from drilling on the outskirts of the refuge as follows, “Impacts include contamination of cave ecosystems from drilling fluids, oil and gas leakage, groundwater contamination, and surface disturbance from heavy equipment. The potential for drilling fluids, cement, hydrocarbons, and chemicals to enter cave ecosystems increases with each well drilled. Long-term impacts of leaky casings caused by corroded pipe or poor cementing could allow hydrocarbons to leak into cave systems, threatening the stability of cave ecosystems.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service summarizes potential threats from oil and gas leasing as follows in a 1997 Biological Opinion as, “… the possibility of soil and water contamination from leaks or ruptures, increased sediment load in the runoff from pads and roads, additional non-point source pollution, and greater erosion rates. Oil field development in or adjacent to floodplains would lead to additional roads and pipeline crossings in floodplains. Floodplain hydraulics could be changed, possibly increasing flood hazards at the development site or elsewhere on the river.”

WildEarth Guardians is concerned that renegade energy development is once again testing the limits of environmental legislation. “There is clear evidence that further review of groundwater impacts is required. The clearance process undertaken has not adequately evaluated impacts on an additional four aquatic invertebrates currently proposed to be listed as endangered by the Fish and Wildlife Service”, states WildEarth Guardians conservation biologist Hamilton Smith.

The group cites a May 26, 1994, incident when a Yates Petroleum Corporation oil well hit a subsurface water flow, spilling contaminants that were not contained immediately. Impacts of the material that entered Bitter Lakes at the time were undetermined, however, the accident is a specific example of how and when drilling activities can impact the immediate environment. WildEarth Guardians believes a much more thorough environmental review of cumulative impacts is required, and that a much larger closure area be considered.