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Iron Point seismic testing project application withdrawn

Followed by an application for seismic testing on 14,165 acres

By Cayla Vidmar

Gunnison Energy has withdrawn its application for seismic testing in the Iron Point area, located on 28,000 acres of public lands north of Paonia in Gunnison and Delta counties. The project received 235 public comments, according to the United State Forest Service (USFS) project database.

However, on November 21, the USFS released a public scoping notice for a proposal for seismic testing in the Trail Gulch Unit, northeast of the Iron Point project area.  Comments for the Trail Gulch Project will be accepted through December 7. This application notably coincides with a United States Geological Survey (USGS) report that found drilling on public lands contributes nearly a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.

The Iron Point project spurred local environmental advocacy group High Country Conservation Advocates (HCCA) to submit comments regarding the project. Seismic testing is used to “gain a better understanding of the subsurface geology to determine if there is oil and gas potential and to also determine the best location for exploratory drilling,” according to the Iron Point plan of operations. The plan also details operations that include helicopters to place shot holes, and dynamite and vibroseis buggies to generate acoustic energy into the ground.

“Gunnison Energy has withdrawn, at least for now, its county application for seismic testing in the Iron Point area of Gunnison County, and the Forest Service has deferred the project until summer of 2019,” writes HCCA public lands director Matt Reed via email.

Criticism of the Iron Point project from HCCA included a project of this scope, size and intensity in an area that has evidence of federally listed threatened or endangered species (including lynx and cutthroat trout); sensitive and vital water infrastructure; presence of roadless areas; and archeological sites or historic sites.

Another criticism of the Iron Point application was the plan for the USFS to evaluate the proposal with a categorical exclusion, rather than an environmental assessment, which HCCA noted as inappropriate for a project of that scale.

Reed notes, “HCCA is requesting that the Forest Service consider both the Trail Gulch and Iron Point proposals together in an environmental assessment, rather than separating them out into individual silos that fail to provide meaningful analysis of impacts.”

While the Iron Point project has been withdrawn for now, Reed writes, “Many of the issues that were raised by the public regarding the Iron point proposal are applicable here at Trail Gulch.” The Trail Gulch project encompasses 14,165 acres in the northern part of Gunnison and Delta counties, “in the very upper headwater of the North Fork,” says Reed.

Reed writes about potential impacts of the project, “to wildlife, roadless areas, watersheds, geology, and downstream agriculture.” He says HCCA will be taking a close look at the new application, and will be providing information to the public on public lands issues and impacts of the project.

Reed also notes the interesting timing of the application for seismic testing, which, as noted, is a precursor for oil and gas drilling.

Two federal reports were released on Black Friday, the fourth National Climate Assessment, which assesses “the science of climate change and variability and its impact across the United States,”and a report from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) which found a quarter of carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. come from drilling done on public lands.

The USGS report states, “Emissions from fossil fuels produced on Federal lands represent, on average, 23.7 percent of national emissions for [carbon dioxide].”

While the National Climate Assessment describes the impacts of climate change on numerous aspects of the United States, including communities, the economy, water, health, etc. Most notably, the report finds “that more immediate and substantial global greenhouse gas emissions reductions, as well as regional adaptation efforts would be needed to avoid the most severe consequences in the long term.”

This report “makes clear how rising greenhouse gas emissions and climate change will severely damage nearly every sector of the U.S. economy,” writes Reed.

Reed attributes the withdrawal of the Iron Point application to the “engagement, questions, and demands for transparency from concerned citizens,” and “the reasonable expectations from Gunnison County that operators adhere to county oil and gas regulations and permit process timelines.”

Reed writes, “Trying to ram through a massive seismic testing project utilizing explosives and helicopters on public lands in the middle of hunting season without engaging affected stakeholders may suffice in other parts of the country, but not here.”

The USFS is accepting comments on the Trail Gulch seismic testing project until December 7, and information, including how to comment, can be found at goo.gl/AbhDX4 (link is case sensitive and may not work in Safari browsers).

“HCCA encourages everyone who values Gunnison County’s public lands, and the burgeoning agriculture economy that is being built in the North Fork Valley, to submit comments to the Forest Service stating why these values are important to you, and how they would be affected by seismic testing and subsequent oil and gas development,” says Reed.

Gunnison Energy did not reply to email or phone queries for comment.

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