More than a mile below Canyons of the Ancients National Monument lies the Leadville geologic formation, home of the nation’s largest reserve of carbon dioxide.
But on the surface is the nation’s highest concentration of ancient sites, an estimated 20,000 sites within a unique desert environment.
Poorly mixing the two makes a bad cocktail, either damaging our cultural human heritage and landscape from industry, or restricting access to a unique natural resource used to pressurize oil fields relied on for energy independence.
Neither has to happen, thanks to a team effort between monument archaeologists and Kinder Morgan, the nation’s third-largest energy company responsible for extracting the CO2.
“Kinder Morgan has been forthcoming about struggles in the past getting approval,” said monument manager Marietta Eaton. “When I first got here, I was forced to pull a permit for drilling on Goodman Point because the action had not been listed in the Federal Register.”
That problem was solved, but because of a lack of BLM staff to safely manage protected ruins and complex energy development simultaneously, “it was taking years to approve permits. There was a lot of frustration and delays.”
A new pilot program has found a solution. By identifying “cold zones” within the monument without ruins, officials have been able to streamline the permitting process for Kinder Morgan, and save taxpayers money.
The Geographic-wide Development Plan is long-term strategy for drilling CO2 on the 164,000-acre monument, and is designed to move away from ad-hoc development of past years.
“Knowing where the gaps are without cultural resources means fewer conflicts,” Eaton said. Avoiding steep slopes, riparian areas and paleontological sites will also be benefit of the plan.
More use of directional drilling, which allows the well to move laterally up to 2,000 feet in any direction to access CO2, reduces the amount of well pads. Better use of existing infrastructure, and more efficient loop lines, also lesson cumulative impacts.
“It is thrown all together into a model to determine where the high value sites are,” said Tracy Perfors, a BLM resource specialist. “We’re creating a big picture that gives development more predictability rather than one well at time. It gives us and the public more of an understanding what the monument will look like in the future.”
Kinder Morgan decided mitigating for archaeology is a larger fixed cost for business on the monument. Rather than rely solely on monument archaeologists, Kinder Morgan decided to step up and fund block archeological surveys, folding it into their operating costs for drilling in such a sensitive area.
The company contracted with Woods Canyon consulting to conduct the archaeological surveys.
“We see it as a more efficient plan. Asking us to do it does not meet their time frame because of our limited budget, so it also saves the taxpayer,” Eaton said.
Knowing where to drill with minimal impacts is the goal.
“They could go outside the cold spots, but they know upfront if will take more study and (cultural site) mitigation that they pay for,” Eaton said. “We now know better where to avoid.”
The first block survey of 3,000 acres contains 12,000 pages and is under review by COA staff specialists. Eventually Kinder Morgan plans to pay for three more block surveys, with the next one scheduled for the 8,000-acre Cow Canyon area of the monument.
They plan to submit plans for an additional 69 wells monument-wide.
But the reviews of ideal well-pad areas in the first established cold zone in Yellow Jacket are far from over. Development Action says plans for drilling seven to 10 more wells at that location are set to be submitted by the company.
The action triggers the public scoping process and detailed environmental reviews required under the National Environmental Policy Act, said Tracy Perfors, a BLM natural resource specialist.
“When that happens, public notices are sent out on the plan and comments are submitted,” she said. “The application to drill is reviewed and if we find there is no significant impact, then the plan goes forward. If not then a more comprehensive Environmental Impact Study is required.”
Added Shannon Borders, a BLM public information officer, “There will be multiple chances for the public to review drilling projects on the monument.”