An oil and gas operator proposed drilling six oil wells in southern Eddy County near Loving on federal public land.
In considering the application to drill by COG Operating, the Bureau of Land Management conducted an environmental analysis finding minimal impacts and recommending the project be approved.
The analysis identified several environmental impacts to air quality, water and wildlife, finding those impacts would be successfully mitigated in the project.
If approved, COG would build the wells on two well pads along with a central tank battery, access roads and flowlines and power lines.
In total, the location encompasses about 400 acres of BLM land.
Input can be provided to the BLM until Oct. 12 either online at the agency’s website or via mail to the BLM Carlsbad Field Office, Attn: Zane Kirsch, 620 E. Greene St., Carlsbad, N.M. 88220.
Here are the main points from the agency’s environmental analysis of the COG’s Big Papi project.
The BLM found the facility could contribute to air pollution in Eddy, Lea and Chaves counties, mostly through volatile organic compounds (VOCs), particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide (NO2).
Exposure to all three are known to cause respiratory problems and lung damage, and they can contribute to the formation of ozone (O3).
But the analysis found the additional pollutants expected from Big Papi would contribute little to the overall effects of oil production in the rural region, and that the wells would likely not be developed concurrently, meaning pollution impacts would not happen at the same time for all six wells.
There would also be pollutant emissions from construction of the well pad ahead of its production phase, and the BLM estimated that was when emissions would be the highest for about 30 days as the facility is built.
“Emissions are anticipated to decline during operations and maintenance as the need for earth-moving and heavy equipment declines,” read the report.
In total, the project would generate between about 4.5 million and 6.7 million barrels oil per day, depending on the shale formations targeted, and produce between about 2 million to 2.8 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e).
This amount of pollutants was not expected to contribute significantly to the region’s air pollution or potential exceedance federal limits under the National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS), read the report.
The small increase in emissions that could result from approval of the proposed action would not result in Eddy, Lea, or Chavez County exceeding the NAAQS for any criteria pollutants,” the report read. “The emissions from the proposed well are not expected to impact the 8-hour average ozone concentrations, or any other criteria pollutants in the Permian Basin.”
Each well in the Permian Basin was estimated to use about 31.2 acre feet (AF) per horizontal well and about 1.5 AF for a vertical well, thus the total water use for Big Papi would be 187 AF as all six wells were expected to be horizontal.
The area of the proposed project would drain to the south, causing increased runoff and causing increased erosion, soil loss and sedimentation.
The BLM noted the well pads will be reinforced to reduce runoff, and topsoil will be stockpiled for use in the event of soil loss.
Spills could enter groundwater supplies through nearby karst formations, the study read, while also impacting cave species.
Karst is a rock formation made mostly of eroded limestone that filters groundwater and forms underground caves and aquifers. Such formations are especially susceptible to water pollutants.
The proposal required the BLM be notified if any karstic formations were found during construction or well drilling and production at the site.
“During drilling, previously unknown cave and karst features could be encountered,” the report read. “If a void is encountered while drilling and a loss of circulation occurs, lost drilling fluids can directly contaminate groundwater recharge areas, aquifers, and groundwater quality.”
Impacts to wildlife
The BLM’s report identified multiple endangered or threatened species that could be impacted by the Big Papi project and continued oil and gas development in the region.
To reduce these impacts, the BLM required COG to use soil erosion to avoid damage to habitat for the endangered Texas hornshell mussel, a species of mussel known only to survive along the banks of the Pecos River in southeast New Mexico.
Located at least a mile from the river, the BLM said it expected impacts to the mussel could be mitigated.
“Impacts of the proposed action to wildlife in the localized area may include: possible mortality, habitat degradation and fragmentation, avoidance of habitat during construction and drilling activities and the potential loss of burrows and nests,” the report read.
Other nearby species of plants were the Scheer’s beehive cactus and Tharp’s bluestar, both listed as endangered by the State of New Mexico but unlisted federally.
Construction of the site would remove about 13 acres of vegetation in total, the report read, but that area would be reduced as construction was finished and the wells went into production.
“Interim reclamation will be conducted on all disturbed areas not needed for active support of production operations, and if caliche is used as a surfacing material it will be removed at time of reclamation to enhance re-establishment of vegetation,” the report read.
Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-618-7631, [email protected] or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.