Gas drilling near sand dunes proposed |

Gas drilling near sand dunes proposed

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) ” Over the objections of environmental groups, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has okayed a Canadian company’s request to drill two test wells for gas within two miles of the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve.

“We feel it’s an utterly inappropriate area to have gas and oil drilling, on many accounts,” said Ceal Smith, coordinator of the San Luis Valley Water Protection Coalition, formed to oppose the drilling.

Federal officials told the Gazette they have choice but grant the permit for drilling in the Baca National Wildlife Refuge.

“We’re darn lucky we ended up with the surface estate at all,” said Mike Blenden, the Fish and Wildlife Service’s manager of the refuge.

The refuge was created “to restore, enhance and maintain wetlands, upland, riparian and other habitats for wildlife, plants and fish species that are native to the San Luis Valley.”

The proposal announced Friday to allow drilling of two test wells in the Baca National Wildlife Refuge drew protests from environmental groups concerned about the impact of drilling on wildlife, air and water quality and the nearby park.

Toronto-based Exam Energy Exploration wants to drill in the refuge, which hasn’t been opened to the public yet. Exam and ConocoPhillips retained the ownership of mineral rights in the area even when it was made a refuge.

“From a wildlife-management standpoint, I would rather there not be any drilling or any exploration at all, but that’s not reality,” Blenden said. His agency will require some conditions be imposed on any drilling to reduce the impact.

Park Superintendent Art Hutchinson said he had concerns about the drilling.

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