Hermosa Creek act example of good lawmaking

Durango is a very picturesque town with wonderful views: To the north is Animas City Mountain, a much-used area for afternoon hiking and biking amid ponderosa pine trees and a few large oil well pads. To the west is Perins Peak, with a ship’s prow-looking ridge with a radio signal tower and a natural gas well pump jack.

What? There are no oil wells on Animas Mountain or gas wells on Perins Peak.

And thanks to Sen. Michael Bennet, hopefully there will not be in the future. Bennet included a mineral withdrawal for both areas in his Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act, which he introduced last month.

This has made some people mad. There are some who think there is no place that deserves to be left without a road to a well site, no place that is better off without Halliburton frack truck traffic, no vista not improved by a pump jack. Indeed, there was pressure during the George W. Bush administration to lease Animas Mountain and Perins Peak for oil and gas drilling.

Is this all just wild speculation? Perhaps, but there are geologic formations beneath both areas that could hold some oil and gas.

What would oil or gas development look like? That largely depends on the geologic formations found to have oil or gas. If sandstone or coal formations are targeted, it would probably look like the areas around Aztec and Farmington, with many smaller well pads, each serving one or two wells. If shale gas or oil is found, it would probably be fewer very big (think the size of the south Town Plaza parking lot) pads serving wells that have numerous horizontally drilled laterals spreading out in all directions beneath them. Regardless, there would be large roads to serve the heavy truck traffic and pipelines to carry the product out.

Currently, both Animas Mountain and Perins Peak are important local recreational areas. Perins Peak, a State Wildlife Area, is also a very important wildlife (elk, deer, peregrine falcon nesting) area that is rightly closed to most access during parts of the year. Clearly, oil or gas production would occur year-round.

The city of Durango worked hard to have these areas withdrawn from mineral entry, and La Plata County was supportive, as well. Both deserve thanks. It is good that our elected officials stepped up and acted proactively to preserve these important local areas.

Bennet’s Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act is the result of a multiyear community process that came to a series of compromise positions that balanced the needs and values of everyone from miners to ranchers, hunters and motorcyclists, bikers and hikers. It is a prime example of what most of us want from our political representatives – that they listen and follow the lead of the people.

I look forward to having Animas Mountain and Perins Peak stay as they are. Oil and gas wells aren’t needed to improve them.

dan@sanjuancitizens.org. Dan Randolph is executive director of the San Juan Citizens Alliance.