DEL NORTE Rio Grande County was expecting a 1041 Conditional Use Permit application from the Dan A. Hughes Company (DAHC) earlier this week for oil and gas exploration in the San Francisco Creek area, but news of "issues" within the company is all they received. "The company has had some issues come up that are out of their hands right now," wrote Rio Grande County Land Use Administrator Rose Vanderpool on Wednesday in an email. "They would like Western Land Management to push for an extension with permits that are about up with the COGCC (Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission). The company may pursue with the county process next year." The Rio Grande County Commissioners will ultimately approve the exploration through a 1041 Conditional Use Permit. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) San Luis Valley Field Office in January authorized the construction of a well pad and access to drill and develop an exploratory oil and gas well on private land approximately five miles south of Del Norte in the popular recreation area. The exploratory oil and gas well, if a county permit application is submitted and approved, will be drilled on a 35-acre lot the Texasbased DAHC owns near Rio Grande County Road 13. San Francisco Creek is about a mile away from the proposed drilling pad and access road. The BLM leased the federal mineral rights below the private land for a 10-year term in 2006. DAHC is proposing a wildcat drilling operation with a proposed depth of 6,600 feet targeting the Dakota and Morrison horizons. The drilling operation will pass through the Conejos, Blanco Basin and Mancos formations before encountering the Dakota and Morrison formations. The drilling operation is expected to take 45 days. The specific casing, cementing and mud programs are detailed in the DAHC Drilling Well Plan. No waste pits or flare stacks are being proposed, the operator will utilize a gas-buster to flare if necessary, and if the hole is dry, reclamation is required. The plan requires intermediate casing be used through all useable water bearing zones. The BLM and the COGCC will conduct inspections during and after drilling operations to ensure compliance with the permit. In its environmental assessment , the BLM stated, "Due to scarcity of surface water in the area, groundwater is heavily utilized for agricultural and domestic uses. Therefore, protection of this vital and vast groundwater resource is essential. During the drilling process, the proposed well would pass through usable groundwater aquifers. Potential impacts to groundwater resources could occur if appropriate cementing and casing programs are not strictly followed." To address these concerns, BLM would require all casings that run through the well should be cemented from bottom to top so that no casing will be exposed directly to the fresh or usable water zone, or to the targeted oil and gas formations. Extending and properly cementing the conductor casing to adequate depths would protect shallow aquifers. The terms of the drilling permit require the operator to obtain approval from the BLM before conducting hydraulic fracturing operations . The operator is also required to abide by all state regulations regarding the use and reporting of hydraulic fracturing operations. A 1,320-foot road will be constructed across the company's property to the well. The drill pad will disturb approximately 2.3 acres and will be enclosed with straw bales to minimize drilling noise. No evaporation ponds will be permitted for waste water, instead, a closed loop drilling system will be used to either recycle the water for further use or the water will be disposed of offsite at an authorized facility. Over the past two years, San Francisco Creek residents and their supporters have protested the exploration permit during public meetings and events.
Pauline Washburn of Del Norte, Colorado is the 2013 recipient of the Vigilant Citizen Award presented by the San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council. She was given her award at a recent gathering at the Ruth Marie Center in Del Norte.
The award identifies a person who works to nurture better and healthier communities through public health, safety and welfare. This is a person who understands the importance of environmental health and speaks out for the protection of air and water quality. A vigilant citizen educates and informs others in a way that allows them to shape their own future.
Christine Canaly, Director of the San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council
(SLVEC), explained that this is the first year they have awarded this recognition and that it will continue into the future. “We feel it is important to recognize our valuable neighbors and applaud their accomplishments as examples for us all,” stated Canaly.
Pauline was acknowledged for her local volunteer work since she moved to Del Norte 15 years ago. She volunteered early on at the KRZA radio station and at the Valley Food Coop in Alamosa, editing the Coop newsletter for 10 years.
She is active with the Local Foods Coalition and edited the 2nd edition of the Local Foods Guide. In 2004 she co-organized a Valley Peace Conference in response to the war in Iraq.
In Del Norte, she continues to share her talents at the High Valley Community Center which offers after-school and summer activities for local kids as well as programs for adults. The Center also hosts a community garden coordinated by Pauline, and a recycling center.
By 2008, Pauline’s attention turned to the prospect of a massive federal lease proposal that would have opened up 144,000 acres of National Forest land west of Del Norte to oil and gas leasing. She aligned herself with SLVEC at that time. Washburn spearheaded the local effort to thwart this plan by helping to generate over 100 protests from her concerned neighbors. The leasing program was deferred, largely due to her vigilance.
“The Council and Chris have done so much for us. Their expertise in helping people to affect agency decisions to protect our precious Valley is incomparable. We are so lucky to have Chris and the Council,” asserts Washburn.
Pauline has also worked with Rio Grande County to revise and update their oil and gas regulations, a process that is still ongoing. She has stayed involved with current issues, including the latest oil and gas exploratory drilling, informing the community and ensuring that regulations are being followed.
Washburn has also been a passionate advocate for retaining Wolf Creek Pass in its current condition by helping to monitor the activities of a Texas-based corporation that plans to build a large scale development at the top of this remote mountain environment. The Record of Decision for this proposal will be released soon, to be scrutinized by Pauline, SLVEC and other interested San Luis Valley community residents.
Pauline’s roots in the San Luis Valley go back to the 1880’s when her maternal great grandmother and grandparents landed in Creede. Her grandfather worked in the Last Chance Mine. The Great Depression ousted Pauline’s grandmother and mother to the big city of Denver where they opened a seamstress shop together. Her mother met her father there. Washburn was born Pauline Greiner in 1939.
After graduating from South High School in Denver, Pauline worked as a secretary. She and her first husband moved around a lot, from Virginia to Sweden, while bringing three sons into the world. After returning to Colorado with her boys, she met Art Washburn while working at the Community College of Denver. After they married, she studied to become a sign language interpreter and tutor for deaf students.
The new family entered into a period of pursuing various educational opportunities, bringing them to Oregon. While living and working in Oregon, Pauline began the community involvement that would become part of her legacy. She started volunteering at the local library and helped to create a Woman’s Resource Center in McMinnville, Oregon. After working for 20 years as an educational interpreter with primarily middle school deaf children, she retired.
While Art continued working in the education field, he and Pauline decided to return home to Colorado after the boys were grown to an area where she could do post-retirement activities. They finally settled in the San Luis Valley.
Pauline is now a grandmother of five. Art recently passed away, but Pauline remains a stalwart and vigorous voice for conservation and community health happily working with the Ecosystem Council. She is still an active member of the Del Norte community and is optimistic about the future for this little Colorado town. SLVEC is proud to award her the Vigilant Citizen Award for 2013.
For more information, please contact SLVEC at 719-589-1518 or