Sunday, November 18, 2007

Depleted Uranium and Oil Drilling in Santa Fe

On Thursday, November 15, the Santa Fe County Commission hosted a session at El Dorado Elementary School along with Reps. Peter Wirth and Rhonda King to talk about the arrival of oil and gas prospectors in Santa Fe. The panel members discussed the Surface Owners Protection Act and about the ongoing process to develop a new Oil & Gas Ordinance for Santa Fe County.

The crowd was quite large, and the energy in the room was very encouraging. Clearly, the threat of oil rigs and the associated consequences arriving in Santa Fe has stirred a powerful force among the population of the Galisteo Basin.

(Photo used with the permission of Tony Bonanno)

I spoke about three serious issues raised by the arrival of drilling operations:
  • The risk that fracturing operations will contaminate the Galisteo Basin Aquifer
  • The possibility that depleted uranium will be used to perforate the well bores
  • The fact that the Galisteo Basin (and all the people who live there) is entirely dependent on groundwater. Thus, contamination puts drinking water for thousands of people in serious jeopardy with very little possibility that replacement water can be found.
I want to briefly discuss the perforation process because it's been getting very little attention despite the serious effects it could have in Santa Fe.

Perforation is the phase of production in which high explosives are used to blast through the cemented casing that is put in place after the drilling phase is completed. The casing needs to be perforated so that the oil and gas in the reservoir can flow into the casing and back to the surface. Click HERE for a good overview of the process of drilling a well.

This is what a completed well looks like:
This is what the perforation process looks like:

This is what one type of a "perf gun" looks like:

The principle behind the perforation technology is the use of shaped charges, the same technology used to make IEDs in Iraq. The concept is that a shaped charged turns a hemisphere of metal into a molten projectile that travels into the rock surrounding the well bore to open it up and thereby allow the fracturing fluid to travel into the oil & gas bearing formation.

It works like this:

This is how the charge is put together:

The problem here is that in some applications, the perforation guns use depleted uranium as the metal that penetrates into the formation. You can see patent applications for such devices here:

Application No. 1 (by SCHLUMBERGER), Application No. 2 (by Owen Oil Tools LP). The extent to which depleted uranium is used in the United States is unclear, but the prospect should be taken seriously, and I hope that the County will address this urgent matter in its new ordinance.

Needless to say, the prospect that depleted uranium could be used to open up oil and gas reservoirs in Santa Fe County is a serious concern. This should be a main focus of the County's drafting of its new Oil & Gas ordinance.

I a future post, I will talk about the risk that the fracturing process may create vertical fractures that could contaminate the Galisteo Basin aquifer.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

GA Gov's Drought Solution: Pray for Rain

As you may know, Georgia and large parts of the southeastern portion of our country are undergoing serious drought conditions that have persisted for as long as twenty months in some places. The situation is dire, and this is happening in a region that (unlike the Southwest) is unaccustomed to droughts of this magnitude or duration.

(Photo by the AP)

Today, in an effort to address the problem, Georgia's Governor Sonny Perdue did one of the most absurd things I have ever seen a public official do: he organized an official state-sponsored "Pray for Rain" event at the State Capitol. Here he is praying for rain:

(Photo by the AP)

Now, I have no problem with people praying for rain. I do, however, have a problem with the Governor of a State doing so as if it were a realistic approach to solve the crisis facing his State. The Governor seems to forget that the problem in Georgia is the result of years of bad planning and short-sighted decisions about irrigation and development. Instead of being serious about the problem, he decided to pray. Incredible.

One thing I'm praying for is that our elected officials at the state, county, and city levels start to get serious about the situation we face in New Mexico and begin to talk seriously about conservation on a much bigger scale and about how to grow in a responsible way within our water budget. I learned yesterday that Santa Fe's water supply seems secure until 2040. After that, who knows what will happen. If we do nothing, we'll be in a terrible position.

In spite of the Governor of Georgia's bizarre approach, there are some people in Georgia who are taking a better approach and communicating a message in a great way:(Photo by the AP)

This is a group of Georgia football fans at a recent game promoting conservation. I have no doubt that this will do more than the Governor's efforts.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Living with Wolves & the NM Wilderness Alliance

Last night Kelly & I attended a showing of Living with Wolves sponsored by the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance. The film and presentation by Jim and Jamie Dutcher were fantastic and revealed a side of wolves that I'd never seen before.

I've always been interested in efforts to reintroduce wolves throughout the West and believe that reintroduction is very important to restoration of healthy ecosystems. The movie and presentation reinforced this belief, but more importantly it showed how wolves live in small social groups that are far more advanced that I'd previously known.

Most impressive to me was the footage of Jim and Jamie interacting closely with the wolf pack and clearly forming meaningful bonds with them.

I encourage you to check out the film and the Dutchers' work.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Drilling in the Galisteo Basin

Tonight Tecton Energy held a public forum at the Genoveva Chavez Community Center in Santa Fe's South Side. The turnout was amazing, and the crowd was decidedly (and deservedly) anti-drilling.

(Photo by Tony Bonanno)

The issue is whether Tecton should be allowed to commence drilling for oil in the Galisteo Basin south of Santa Fe. Many of the landowners in the affected area do not own the mineral rights beneath their lands, and they are therefore subject to drilling when Tecton leases the mineral rights from the mineral rights owners. Thus, Tecton may be able to enter land without the consent of the surface owner to drill for oil.

The evening consisted of a brief presentation from Tecton and numerous comments from the community.

I spoke about the deep concerns I have regarding the inability of Tecton to ensure that they will not irreversibly damage the aquifer in the area. To me, the issue is about whether my kids will be growing up in a community that is safe, clean, and sustainable. I am also deeply concerned by the inability of Tecton to address serious questions regarding the source of the water they will need to operate and the inability of Tecton to ensure the community that the effects of their operations will be mitigated in the short-term and eliminated in the long-term.

Right now there are many more questions unanswered than answered. One this is for sure, however: this is not a good development for the Santa Fe area, and the community needs to continue to be mobilized to protect our land and water.

More photographs can be found here: PHOTOS.