May 18, 2020

Walter A. Brown

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Citizen Action New Mexico Objections and Comments Re:  Draft Environmental Assessment (EA) for the Petrox Northern Extension Pipeline and Associated Fruitland Coal Gas Horizontal Drilling Project.

Dear Sir,

1.      Once again the Forest Service (FS) is adversely impacting human health and environmental protection in the interests of commercial petroleum interests that destroy the character and features of a roadless area.  Citizen Action NM supports Alternative 1 for No Action/No Construction in this roadless area.  Pipeline and well pad construction would result in acres of land and forest being permanently cleared along with potential shallow aquifer contamination and adverse wildlife impacts.   There are zero benefits to public lands or wildlife from this project which defeats the purpose of roadless areas.  The FS needs to recognize the importance of these ecological treasures of roadless areas beyond their potential for pipelines and well pads.  The FS is allowing “spot zoning” exceptions so that one corporation gets special treatment while everyone else has to follow the rules. In essence, the federal taxpayers who own these public lands are subsidizing the profit margin of a private natural gas company at the expense of the ecological integrity of their public lands and wildlife. This constitutes an unethical giveaway of public lands, which increases threats to already-imperiled wildlife species and allows a permanent intrusion into currently roadless areas.

2.      “The HD Mountains CRA is approximately 25,044 acres is size and is comprised of a 10-mile long northsouth mountain range made up of individual peaks and mesas.”  The 2001 Roadless Rule prevents road construction and timber harvest in designated roadless areas, which are typically 5,000 acres (2,000 hectares) or larger.  This roadless area is five times the size that can receive protection.  The FS is violating the Colorado Roadless Rule 3.2.2.:  “The CRR defined the following resources or features that characterize roadless areas: high quality or undisturbed soil, water, and air; sources of public drinking water; diversity of plant and animal communities; habitat for threatened, endangered, proposed, candidate, and sensitive species and for those species dependent on large, undisturbed areas of land; primitive, semi-primitive motorized, and semi-primitive non-motorized; reference landscapes; natural-appearing landscapes with high scenic quality; traditional cultural properties and sacred sites; and other locally identified unique characteristics (USFS 2012).”  The EA does not protect these resources by seeking to allow and minimizing the effects of the pipeline degradation or destruction of the resources.   

3.      The FS EA fails to present a catalogue of the locations across the United States where it is allowing the intrusion of petroleum and other commercial interests into roadless areas.   A programmatic environmental statement should be provided.  The FS a la carte use of exceptions will lead to the destruction of roadless areas throughout the United States in violation of already federal accepted plans to protect such areas.  The cumulative effects on roadless areas are not analyzed by the FS. 

4.      The existing lease prohibition against surface occupancy and use of the Roadless Area for this pipeline should not be waived by the Forest Service. The No Surface Occupancy stipulation was confirmed by the San Juan National Forest in 2007 explicitly to protect the Roadless Area character of the HD Mountains. The project violates the 2012 Colorado Roadless Rule by allowing new road construction.  Bulldozing a 60-foot wide corridor through the Roadless Area obviously violates the contractual terms against surface occupancy and destroys old growth trees, wildlife habitat and water resources.  The FS should not allow the No Surface Occupancy (NSO) to be voided for petroleum interests which are ravaging the environment wherever located.  The disappearance of roadless areas as result of an ongoing FS permission to destroy these areas at this and numerous other locations should be halted.  “The NSO was established to maintain and protect roadless values and areas in the HD Mountains CRA, and for the purpose of avoiding areas of: 1) landslides and landslide hazards; 2) slopes greater than 40%; 3) water influence zones, including riparian vegetation and flood plains; 4) high potential for water erosion; 5) low potential for revegetation; 6) old growth forests; and 7) visual quality objective (VQO) – retention.” 

The EA devalues and destroys these goals.  The EA identifies: “Additional disturbance would be located in a steep area with high-hazard soils, increasing the risk of landslides. Multiple areas of surface bedrock occur in the old road bed near Little Squaw Creek that would have to be removed for pipeline construction.”

The pipeline will transverse a large watershed that feeds Squaw Creek and ponds, springs and wells.

5.      Given the current outlook for petroleum production prices and a glut of petroleum due to reduction of consumption associated with the Covid-19 pandemic and overproduction, it is probable that this project is not economically viable, necessary or sustainable.  The project contributes further to greenhouse gas emissions causing extreme climate changes. 

6.      The EA does not provide links to documents such as those cited at 3.1.6 Threatened and Endangered, Sensitive, and MIS Species Federally Listed Threatened and Endangered Species.  The inability of the reader to locate referenced documents due to the FS omission of links seriously hides the ball from the public and delivers a defective EA.  The only place that identifies the meaning of “CBM” standing for Coal Based Methane gas production is in the Acronyms.

7.      The commenter cannot assess what specific effects the pipeline construction will have on any of the species it discusses with the exception of elk and mule deer at 3.2.10.  The consequences for those two species are negative in all respects: human intrusion, death from wildlife-vehicle collisions, loss of habitat, poaching, and harassment. 

The EA does not provide links to studies.  By non-identification, the EA pretends that other animal species do not exist for the area and thus fails to identify similar such impacts for other species.  

The EA is required, but fails, to make full identification of wildlife species and impacts on them. Bears, mountain lions and other apex species are ignored.  

Motorized vehicles will use this corridor in perpetuity to maintain and inspect the pipeline and permanently remove vegetation. There is no analysis for the number of road trips from all activities and the expected accidents, injuries and fatalities.  The pipeline corridor will also increase sight-lines for poaching, increase noxious weed introductions and allow abundant new opportunities for illegal motor vehicle use in perpetuity.

8.      A considerable percentage of the project would be on “high-hazard soils due to susceptibility to water erosion and poor revegetation potential.”  No mitigating procedures are provided for the location or at other locations.  Unstable slopes also present danger for pipeline ruptures from rapid downslope movement of snow and rock, floods, erosion, frost heaving.  These forces insert a degree of unpredictability and potential for massive releases due to pipeline breakage. 

9.      3.1.4 Fires/Fuels Management.  This section fails to adequately analyze the potential for more fires during construction and maintenance activities such as thinning and timber removal and increased human intrusion into the area.  The project will involve Coal Bed Methane (CBM).  The potential for coal generated fires for the area is present in another section 3.2.3:  “Coal fires may occur naturally where coal beds are exposed to the surface, and may be ignited by lightning strikes, campfires, wildfires, or spontaneous combustion.”

At p. 30:  “There is a possibility that dewatering of the Fruitland Formation caused by the Proposed Action may expose shallow sub-surface coals to oxygen, releasing heat, and potentially increasing the likelihood of coal fires near the outcrop (USDI 2006).”

10.  The EA lacks discussion for potential causes and effects of pipeline failure or leakage for the proposed action.  Pipeline failures have many causes.  A frequent failure cause is defective welding.  There is no discussion of quality control for the pipeline construction and installation.  Pipeline explosions have been a regular occurrence around the U.S.  The radius of impact for the maximum credible accident for the pipeline is not set forth.  Siting the pipeline along a public transportation corridor of Hwy 160 is unsafe. 

The possibilities for rupture, fires and explosions that may occur are not discussed in the EA.  Pipeline transport of fossil fuels through a roadless area carries the risk of rupture and explosion, threatening resources and values, visitor experience, and human health and safety. 

Methane seeps and spills are inadequately analyzed for increased occurrence, fire potential and impact on human health given increased human intrusion into the roadless area.  Allowing the project in a roadless area creates greater public risk: “Methane seeps can affect the water quality and health of the residences in the area. Methane is highly flammable and explosive under certain conditions. Methane that seeps into confined spaces that are poorly ventilated or unventilated (e.g., water wells or structures) and are exposed to a source of ignition can explode or burn.”

11.  No analysis for seismicity in the proposed area and whether there could be potential for rupture or structural leakages of pipeline and wells. 

12.  The EA does not discuss the potential for habitat fragmentation of wildlife corridors.

13.  Continuation and construction of the pipeline along an older road defeats recovery and maintaining of the roadless area.

14.  The entry of motor vehicles and supplies, drilling activities and later abandonment of the wells give no guarantees that the shallow aquifers of the roadless area will remain uncontaminated.  “Surface spills or inadequate wellbore integrity could potentially contaminate the shallow groundwater aquifers used for domestic water well supply. Spills may result from the release of drilling, completion, or production fluids on the well pads or surrounding areas, or from CBM or produced water released from pipeline leaks.”  Mitigation is not adequately described.


There is no public or environmental benefit from allowing the road, proposed pipeline and well construction to proceed.  The need for roadless areas to remain roadless and free from such projects should be respected by the Forest Service. 


Respectfully submitted,


Citizen Action New Mexico

David McCoy, Executive Director

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