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c/o Christian Dillo, Chairman
P.O. Box 130, Crestone, Co 81131, phone: 719.256.4692
February 29, 2008
Mike Blenden
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
9383 El Rancho Lane
Alamosa, CO 81101
RE: US Fish & Wildlife Service Draft Environmental
Assessment of Planned Gas and Oil Exploration, Baca
National Wildlife Refuge, Saguache County, Colorado
Dear Mr. Blenden:
Thank you for giving us the opportunity to comment on
the “Draft Environmental Assessment of Planned Gas and Oil
Exploration, Baca National Wildlife Refuge” (hereafter
referred to as “Draft EA” and “the Refuge”).
The Crestone Spiritual Alliance represents 19 of the
many spiritual, practice and religious organizations in the
Crestone-Baca area.
The following groups and organizations have endorsed
this letter:
1. Atalanta Association
2. Chamma Ling Retreat Center
3. Crestone Mountain Zen Center
4. Dharma Ocean
5. Dragon Mountain Temple
6. Haidakhandi Universal Ashram
7. Humanity in Unity
8. Karma Thegsum Tashi Gomang
9. Mangala Shri Bhuti
10. Pundarika Foundation
11. Rediscovery Four Corners
12. Shri Aurobindo Learning Center
13. Shumei International Institute
14. Spiritual Life Institute
15. Subud San Luis Valley
16. Vajra Vidya Retreat Center
17. White Jewel Mountain
18. Yeshe Khorlo
In our scoping letter from September 13, 2007 we have
stated our concerns about exploratory drilling activities
on the Refuge and made extensive comments about potential
significant impacts from such drilling activities on the
resources of the refuge itself, on the wider community, and
in particular on the organizations that are part of the
Crestone Spiritual Alliance. We have specifically
elaborated on the following topics:
• Sense of place values
• Economic impacts
• Protection of the San Luis Valley aquifers
• Environmental Pollution
• Biodiversity and wildlife
• Archeological and historic values
• Insurance and bonding requirements for oil and
gas operators
• Option of a federal purchase of the mineral
After reviewing the Draft EA, we have concluded that
our concerns about potential significant impacts were not
sufficiently addressed in the Draft EA. In fact, we believe
that this Draft EA even fails in many aspects to meet the
very purpose of an “Environmental Assessment” as defined by
the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
According to NEPA, an EA serves to “provide sufficient
evidence and analysis for determining whether to prepare an
environmental impact statement” (Section 1508.9). According
to the Council of Environmental Quality as stated in its
‘Citizen’s Guide to NEPA,’ “[t]he purpose of an EA is to
determine the significance of the environmental effects” of
a federal action. Our understanding is that under NEPA, an
Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is required if
environmental effects are determined to be significant.
Overall, the Draft EA fails to demonstrate that
effects on the biological environment and cultural,
historic, and socio-economic values are not significant. We
therefore request that the USFWS improve the quality of
evidence and analysis in its EA. The members of the
Crestone Spiritual Alliance think that impacts will be
significant and that the final EA should probably conclude
that a full EIS with regard to the proposed drilling and
potential production activities on the Refuge is necessary.
The following is to explain why we think evidence as
provided by the EA is insufficient and why we believe
potential impacts will be significant. We will mostly focus
on potential adverse effects on the operation of the
retreat practice centers and religious organizations that
are affiliated with the Crestone Spiritual Alliance.
Scope of Environmental Assessment
The Draft EA states: “The scope of this EA does not
address production of natural gas and oil from any wells
described above. If necessary, the USFWS regulation of
production and associated transportation would be the
subject of a separate analysis pursuant to the National
Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).” (p. 1-4)
We object to the exclusion of production activities
from the scope of this EA. According to our knowledge of
the rules and regulations of the Colorado Oil and Gas
Conservation Commission (COGCC), no additional permitting
process is required to take a test well to production if
oil or gas is found through exploratory drilling. If this
is the case, how will the USFWS ensure that NEPA can and
will be applied to determine the potential impacts of
production activities?
At the very least, this EA should spell out for the
concerned public how the operator (ConocoPhilips and Lexam)
will be stopped from automatically taking a test well that
hits a deposit of hydrocarbons to production.
Since the EA fails to spell out the legal
ramifications and implications of such a scenario, it is
understandable that we and other concerned citizens are
afraid that allowing exploratory drilling in two sites may
immediately lead to production at these sites and,
incrementally, to the permitting of more well sites.
Many of the concerns held by members of the Crestone
Spiritual Alliance are based on a scenario where major oil
and gas production is allowed on the Refuge. Again, these
concerns are understandable, simply because the USFWS
doesn’t analyze or even acknowledge potential cumulative
effects of allowing exploratory drilling activities. By
segmenting impacts and calling them temporary and therefore
insignificant, they are seemingly minimized and ignored.
We strongly urge the USFWS to carefully consider the
legal implications of a scenario where test drilling has
been successful and the operator wants to go to major
production. This is with regard to the full application of
NEPA and its original intent vis-à-vis COGCC rules and
regulations but also with regard to Lexam’s foreseeable
argument that preventing or delaying production after a
significant investment in test wells would be an
“unreasonable constraint on Lexam’s rights to develop its
mineral estate.” This is the very same reason the USFWS is
giving for eliminating the alternative to suspend drilling
until completion of a comprehensive conservation plan
(CCP). We expect that private property law be analyzed in
relationship to NEPA to determine how exploratory drilling
sets a precedent for future production and additional
Across the board, the EA doesn’t identify any
reasonably foreseeable future actions (RFFAs) and therefore
doesn’t assess cumulative effects. It simply doesn’t make
sense to us not to identify production and an increased
number of drilling and productions sites as RFFAs. Lexam
clearly has the intention to drill in order to take wells
to production. If test drilling is successful, it is
reasonably foreseeable that Lexam will try to fully exploit
its mineral estate. This doesn’t have to be limited to the
Refuge alone. Lexam’s mineral estate extends beyond the
boundaries of the Refuge into the National Park and
National Forest, the Baca Grande Subdivision residents and
those spiritual centers that are outside of the
Impacts on “Sense of Place” Values
In our scoping response letter we have spelled out in
detail that we perceive the integrity and preservation of a
sense of place in the San Luis Valley as an indispensable
component of our spiritual practices in the Crestone area.
We have cited “immeasurable values” such as quietude,
solitude, pristine nature, beauty, freshness, clarity, etc.
as being jeopardized by drilling and production activities.
These concerns, granted that they are hard to
quantify, are not sufficiently addressed in the Draft EA.
The presence and activities of spiritual practice centers
and communities is only mentioned briefly in a half
sentence (p. 3-39) despite the fact that these
organizations are an integral part if not the centerpiece
of the larger Crestone culture. Many people live in
Crestone just because of the presence of these spiritual
organizations and the practices they offer to Crestone
Potential impacts on these values related to the
integrity and preservation of a “sense of place” are
minimally dealt with under “Aesthetics.” All impacts are
found to be “less than significant,” because they are
“temporary.” This finding only makes sense because the
scope of the EA is limited to drilling activities to the
exclusion of RFFAs and long-term, cumulative effects. As
mentioned above, we object to such limitations of scope.
If we instead reasonably assume long lasting
production, additional exploratory drilling and associated
transportation (pipelines, trucks, etc.), we think the
“sense of place” would change significantly and also
significantly impact our spiritual centers and communities.
Pristine means untouched. Even though it may seem
excessive to you for us to demand that no industrial
activity whatsoever be allowed on the Refuge, we ask you to
understand that it is exactly the nearly untouched
wilderness aspect of a retreat experience here that makes
this place attractive to spiritual practitioners. There is
an important difference between something being ‘untouched’
as opposed to ‘less than significantly damaged’. One
scratch mark on an otherwise pristine surface is more
noticeable than on an already scratched surface.
We are aware that agricultural land uses continue on
the Refuge. However, it should also be clear that
agricultural and industrial uses such as oil and gas
exploration or production fall into different categories.
This is acknowledged in every land use code across the
Many of us consider this land sacred. It is and has
been considered sacred by Native American leaders. This
should be a significant aspect in and of itself. In
addition, and more importantly, sacredness is created by
dedicating something to a specific and ethically valuable
purpose. The etymology of “sacred” is traced back to
meanings like “bind, restrict, enclose, protect.” The
sacredness of the Crestone area is perceived by those who
have been dedicating their lives to spiritual purposes in
this specific place. Their activities and the sense of
place where these activities occur are inextricably
interrelated. This is why even the presence of two test
wells is perceived by some as having significant impact.
Not even a faint acknowledgement of these feelings is
present in your Draft EA. We ask that this issue be honored
more appropriately and given more consideration with regard
to the significance of potential impacts on the “sense of
place” and its sacredness.
NEPA ties the definition of ”significant” among other
aspects to “the degree to which the effects on the quality
of the human environment are likely to be highly
controversial” (NEPA, Sec. 1508.27). We think that, given
the comments and concerns you have received from us and
other citizens in the Crestone Baca area, the vulnerability
of “sense of place” and its sacredness is highly
Socioeconomic Consequences
The economic consequences of oil and gas drilling and
production activities for the Crestone Spiritual Alliance
depend on the degree to which the “sense of place” and its
perceived sacredness is harmed.
We are in the process of assessing economic data for
all of our 20 members. This effort hasn’t been sufficiently
completed to be spelled out in detail in this letter. At
this point, it is fair to say that tens of millions of
dollars have been invested into the “spiritual
infrastructure” of this place: temples, chapels, meditation
halls, lodges, retreat cabins, etc. Despite these
investments, most of the spiritual organizations are not
rich. They depend on donations and income from guest
services. This type of economy is necessarily fragile.
Crestone is far away from urban environments, and high
travel costs only make sense for retreatants and
practitioners when they can expect a “special experience.”
All of this works because of the unique and pristine
qualities of this place.
Initial data compiled for eight organizations suggest
that these eight centers alone have approx. 20,000 visitors
and 13,800 lodging nights per year. Their gross annual
income together can be estimated to be $2,000,000. This is
not counting the 12 members of the Crestone Spiritual
Alliance not included in this survey.
The service economy outside of the spiritual centers
also depends on guests that come, at least in part, because
of the spiritual communities.
Socioeconomic consequences are addressed in the Draft
EA, but in a very cursory manner. A “minor beneficial
impact” is expected for Alamosa County. Crestone with its
very unique service economy is not analyzed at all with
regard to potential impacts.
Protection of the San Luis Valley Aquifers
Impacts on surface and groundwater quality are
addressed relatively extensively in the Draft EA, but this
is true only in comparison to other areas.
Given that “protection of water quality is an
important concern” (p. 4-6) and also highly controversial,
we find that your analysis is not even close to sufficient.
Dangers are listed but then glossed over as “short term”
or, if “long term,” described as “minimal” (p. 4-5f.) These
statements are made without giving scientific evidence that
this is actually so. Protective measures are listed, but it
is not spelled how these measures will ensure that impacts
will be less than significant.
In the end, a statement is made that “impacts to water
quality would be less than significant because of the
protection measures of the USFWS and compliance with permit
conditions and rules of the COGCC.” (p. 4-6).
However, this conclusion is not supported by any
concrete analysis of the resource or description of how the
protection measures and COGCC rules would apply to specific
aspects of protecting water quality. We are not satisfied
with your analysis. Significance under NEPA is related to
“controversiality” (see above) and also to:
• the degree to which the proposed action affects the
public health and safety,
• the proximity of the project area to wetlands and
ecologically critical areas,
• the degree to which effects on the human environment
are highly uncertain or involve unique and unknown
All these aspects apply to the potential impacts on
the confined and unconfined aquifers in the San Luis
Valley. The ‘architecture’ of the confined aquifer is
highly controversial, public health and safety are
affected, the aquifers are complex systems and ecologically
critical, and risks are unique and unknown. None of these
criteria are even discussed in the Draft EA.
In our opinion, the topic of water quality alone
justifies a finding of “significant impact” and the
subsequent conducting of an EIS.
As residents, we are naturally concerned about the
quality of our drinking water. We are also concerned for
our guests and the wildlife and ecosystem in general. All
life depends on clean water.
Other Concerns
Without going into detail, we generally find that
other concerns brought forth in our scoping response letter
are also insufficiently addressed. These concerns are:
• Environmental Pollution
• Biodiversity and wildlife
• Archeological and historic values
• Insurance and bonding requirements for oil and
gas operators
In one instance the issue is not addressed at all
(insurance and bonding), and with regard to the others the
EA quickly concludes that there is no significant impact.
We don’t find sufficient scientific reasoning in your Draft
EA; instead, everything seems to be automatically taken
care of by the proposed protective and mitigation measures.
Unique risks from accidents are not spelled out in detail.
Option of a federal purchase of the mineral rights and
relevance of CCP
We are disappointed that the alternative of a federal
purchase of the mineral rights has not been pursued,
“because no funds have been identified or appropriated for
the acquisition of the severed mineral estates” (p. 2-7).
We think that in order to identify and appropriate funds,
one needs to at least pursue this alternative. No action in
this direction will naturally lead to no results. The Draft
EA fails to spell out what the USFWS has done to seriously
explore this option.
Obviously, ecosystems are governed by the principle of
interdependence. Laws that allow split estate situations
are antiquated in the sense that they do not recognize this
kind of interdependence. Environmentally important and
sensitive federal lands like the ‘National Baca Wildlife
Refuge’ or the ‘Great Sand Dunes National Park and
Preserve’ would greatly benefit from removing the
difficulties of a split estate situation. The purchase of
the severed mineral rights would make it easier for the
respective federal agencies to fulfill their mandates.
We ask you to pursue this option further as it seems
to be a viable solution. Does the USFWS have a written
statement from Lexam and ConocoPhilips concerning their
view of what would constitute an appropriate offer for buyout?
Despite the fact that you have eliminated the
alternative of suspending drilling until completion of a
CCP, we still think that without a CCP it will be nearly
impossible to determine the significance of impacts. What
are the specific legal reasons for deeming the completion
of a CCP “an unreasonable constraint on Lexam’s rights to
develop its mineral estate” (p. 2-7)? The Draft EA doesn’t
spell out how the USFWS has come to its legal opinion.
Thank you very much for taking the time to carefully
consider our comments to your Draft EA.
As we have stated before, we, the members of the
Crestone Spiritual Alliance, sincerely hope that you will
help to protect the values and sacredness of this place so
that we can continue to share our respective practices with
the thousands of friends and guests who come every year to
visit and practice with us in this beautiful place.
With kind regards,
Christian Dillo
Crestone Spiritual Alliance, Chairman
Crestone Mountain Zen Center, Director