A former Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation commissioner
said geologists must become "more proactive" in educating the public
about seismic activity.
Claudia Rebne, vice president and co-founder of Denver-based
Legacy Energy Corp., made her remarks recently at the annual 3-D
Seismic Symposium, sponsored by the Rocky Mountain Association of
Geologists and the Denver Geophysical Society.
Rebne, who is a past president of the Denver Geophysical
Society and who previously worked for Mobil Oil, said that in the
past year the energy industry has seen several challenges to federal
seismic permits issued by the Bureau of Land Management.
"Environmental or obstructionist groups are now aggressively
challenging these permits through the BLM's administrative appeal
process and the federal court system," Rebne said. "These challenges
add significant time, expense and uncertainty to seismic projects
on federal lands."
She pointed out that there are more than 100 million
acres of prospective lands in the western U.S. managed by the BLM.
"These days, the energy industry is not only faced
with pre-permit delays, but we are also encountering post-permit
challenges to seismic projects that fall on federal lands," she
said. "Obstructionist groups now realize that seismic exploration
typically leads to drilling."
Rebne suggested that energy companies need to help
provide the BLM with pertinent information and documentation for
comprehensive environmental assessments for 3-D seismic projects.
When obstructionist groups challenge the BLM's decision
to issue permits for seismic activity, energy companies can intervene,
giving them the right to participate in any settlement discussions,
"Remember to anticipate," she said. "Things happen
really quickly. Don't count on the BLM to defend its decision. They
don't have as much at stake as you do."
She encouraged attendees to solicit support from ranchers,
politicians, state agencies and local citizens groups that favor
the seismic process.
Recent federal lawsuits against the BLM, challenging
the permitting process, have been related to the surface impact
of seismic operations on biological, archaeological and land-use
resources, Rebne said.
Some personal examples included:
- Intrepid's Fertilizer 3-D study in Grand
County, Utah, apparently the first BLM seismic project challenged
in federal court by members of the environmental community.
The project's 36-square mile vibroseis survey was
acquired in the Paradox Basin about 10 miles west of Moab, Utah.
The southern boundary of the survey is a few miles from Canyonlands
A week after the BLM issued a seismic permit in August
2001, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) filed suit and
sought an injunction to halt the project, claiming it would harm
cryptobiotic soils, impact a sensitive snake species and a rare
bat species, and significantly impact the surface.
Although two experts filed affidavits regarding the
effects on wildlife, Intrepid deposed them and found that neither
had ever been to the project area and did not know whether the two
species were present there, she said.
The case was dismissed and the seismic project moved
However, legal fees amounted to about $250,000, she
said. SUWA was ordered to pay litigation costs of about $5,000 to
- In another case involving Red Willow's
North Mail Trail 3-D, the BLM issued a seismic permit in August
2002, and within a week, four environmental groups sued the agency
in federal court.
The area involved a 20-square mile vibroseis survey
located in the Paradox Basin of southwestern Colorado.
The project area became included in the Canyons of
the Ancients National Monument by Presidential Proclamation in 2000.
The monument designation specifically allows seismic operations
and energy resource development to continue, Rebne said.
WesternGeco, the seismic contractor, and three other
energy companies intervened in the lawsuit, and the federal judge
strongly encouraged all parties to try to reach a settlement.
The plaintiffs, including the San Juan Citizens Alliance
of Durango, Colo., were most concerned about protecting cultural
resources and a sensitive lizard species.
The parties were able to reach a settlement and the
lawsuit was dismissed. The survey was completed in November 2002.
Rebne noted that the four energy companies incurred
about $40,000 in legal fees even though the case never went to court.
Because of the delays, it took more than two years to acquire data
on the land.
- A third case involved Eclipse's Yellow
Cat 2-D vibroseis swath program in Grand County, Utah, about five
miles northeast of Arches National Park in Utah's Paradox Basin.
The permit was issued in January 2002, and the contractor,
WesternGeco, started acquisition in early February.
SUWA opposed the project and appealed the BLM decision
as well as filed suit in federal court, Rebne said.
A stay was issued and WesternGeco was forced to stop
seismic operations before the project could be completed, she said.
WesternGeco and Eclipse decided to intervene in SUWA's
IBLA appeal. That agency affirmed the BLM's decision to issue a
permit, allowing the project to move forward again.
In September 2002, SUWA challenged the project again
by filing a lawsuit in federal court. It claimed that the BLM failed
to consider alternative plans such as limiting vibrator points to
existing roads and that the IBLA ignored evidence. It also claimed
that the BLM failed to take a hard look at the project's impact
to biological soils, visual resources and endangered species.
The state of Utah, Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining,
and Utah State Lands intervened in support of the project.
In his final ruling, the judge concluded that the
BLM failed to adequately study alternatives and the IBLA did limit
SUWA's input during the appeals process making its decision "arbitrary
and capricious." The judge remanded the case to IBLA for further
"It has been over a year since WesternGeco was forced
to shut down field operations in the Yellow Cat project area," Rebne
said. "Completion of the project is still on hold because of permit