Over 50 people attended a joint meeting of the Mesquite City Council and the Virgin Valley Water District (VVWD) to hear a presentation by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) on proposed leasing of public lands near Mesquite for oil and gas exploration.
The presentation, held on Wednesday July 15, originally was to feature representatives of BLM who would explain the leasing process. The meeting was changed at the request of BLM to have a presentation by telephone and computer rather than in person due to their concern for their safety. The safety concern led VVWD Director Barbara Ellestad to tell the BLM representatives that “Mesquite has been named the second safest city in Nevada,” and that armed citizens aren’t walking the streets. Those in attendance applauded.
Chris Carlton, of the Caliente office of the BLM reviewed the process the agency is following before awarding leases. Carlton noted that “There are three steps to the process, and we are in step two.” The first step was to identify potential lands for leasing through a land use process, which was completed earlier this year. The second step is to review the lands nominated and complete an Environmental Assessment (EA) document of the proposed areas which results in offering identified lands for auction. The final step is actual drilling which requires an Environmental Impact Statement before any activity begins. The impact statement would require further public comment.
Carlton emphasized that anyone could request a “deferral” of any of the lands from consideration for drilling. He said that anyone can mail, fax or email the BLM and state why they want any of the lands removed from leasing consideration. Comments have to be received by BLM by July 24. The area adjacent to Mesquite is listed as “Block A” in the BLM document.
During public comment several speakers questioned the lack of notice by BLM that they were considering adopting the EA document. Darren Daboda, chairman of the Moapa Band of Paiute told Carlton that “I just found out yesterday” about the proposed leasing of lands within the Virgin River watershed. Daboda spoke of the close relationship of the tribe with the river, and their dependence on the watershed.
Councilor Craig Hafen asked Carlton who requested the leases for the area adjacent to Mesquite. Initially, the response was people could look it up on the BLM website or leave their email address and it would be sent to them. Hafen replied “No disrespect, but I am seeing a lot of people who don’t like that response.”
After a delay, the information was posted on the computer screen. Names listed were: GG Explorations, Rick Baily, Lorenzo Petroleum and Nevada Leasing Services.
Kevin Brown, general manager of VVWD told Carlton that “Almost all of Block A is within Basin 222.” Brown explained that VVWD held the senior water rights for the basin, and that the area adjoins sites where the district currently has wells or is planning wells. Brown and several VVWD directors expressed their strong opposition to the proposal and indicated they would take whatever steps were necessary to protect the areas water supply.
The general response to concerns was for agencies and the general public to submit requests for deferral of Block A. MLN asked Carlton about the staff recommendations found in Section 2.3.1 of the EA that recommends that two of the four blocks being considered be removed from leasing, and that parcels be removed from a third block. However, Block A, the parcel adjacent to Mesquite was recommended to be included for leasing in its entirety.
Carlton responded that BLM had received no comments on Block A and that was why it was still recommended. Mayor Al Litman suggested that was because no one knew about the EA document.
The major notification problem Carlton acknowledged was that the Ely BLM district does not include Clark County, and ends at the Lincoln County line. He pledged to include Mesquite in all future communications.
Those who wish to comment on the proposed leasing of Block A, are encouraged to write, email or fax to the Caliente BLM office. Carlton encouraged those commenting to state why they wanted Block A referred out of the leasing process or included. Verbal comments such as those made at the joint meeting will not be considered. Comments should be sent to:
BLM Caliente Field Office
PO Box 237 Caliente, NV 89008
Attention: Dec.2015 O&G Lease Sale
Email address: email@example.com
All comments must be sent to BLM by July 24, 2015.
Please note that it is critical to include “Dec. 2015 O&G Lease Sale” in the subject line of the email.