A plan being considered by federal leaders could bring hydraulic fracturing to the northwest side of Lewisville Lake this spring.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), an agency within the US Department of Interior, is in the process of determining whether to auction off drilling rights for the next 10 years to 259 acres in Hickory Creek on April 20 in Santa Fe, New Mexico as part of their quarterly leasing of federal lands for mineral extraction.
Donna Hummel, spokesperson for the BLM’s New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, and Kansas district, said that her office has received interest from members of the oil and gas industry to pursue drilling on that land, and under the Federal Mineral Leasing Act, the office is required to weigh those requests.
Starting last August, they began the process of deciding whether to move forward with that auction; a process the BLM website said will conclude in late March before that April 20 auction date.
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In the process, the BLM had a 132-page environmental impact study completed on the projects up for consideration, including the one at Lewisville Lake, where the report determined that “Proposed Action Alternative is not expected to have significant impacts on the environment.”
Hummel said a number of factors go into that including requirements from the agency that owns the land; in this case the Army Corps of Engineers.
Clay Church, representative for the Corps’s Fort Worth district said in the case of any projects that may impact the lake, safety is the top priority especially in relation to structures like the dam on the south side of the lake. Drilling has to be at least 1,000 feet from the water’s edge (at the lake’s usual 522 foot level) and 3,000 feet from critical structures.
Hummel said part of the process included a public review period on the project back in November for which they received no responses.
However some residents tell us they didn’t respond, because they’re just now finding out.
Postings about the possible leasing appeared on the New Mexico district’s website, which many said they never knew they’d have any reason to check out.
Jackie Vincent who lives further east along the lake shore said she only found out about the proposal this week when a friend shared an article from a local newspaper on her Facebook feed; an article that itself was only published late last week.
“Nobody seems to know,” said Vincent.
Rita Beving from the DFW chapter of the Clean Water Fund said she too is just learning of the situation, but has serious concerns about the safety of the environment near the important lake.
“Lake Lewisville provides water for hundreds of thousands of people in the DFW area we cannot have that asset put at risk,” she said.
Beving also expressed concern about the dam in Lewisville which is currently undergoing repairs for existing damage. She worries about unknowns like the seismic effects of the gas drilling and if that could create further issues.
Beving wants more studies targeted more specifically at this portion of land before the BLM makes any decisions.
The good news for her and others concerned is that there is still time.
The decision is currently in the public protest phase where anyone can send in letters of protest to the New Mexico office. Federal regulations require those only come in via fax or traditional mail though and that they are submitted by Feb. 19.
Protests can be sent to:
The Bureau of Land Management New Mexico Office
P.O. Box 27115
Santa Fe, NM 87502-0115
Or faxed to 505-954-2010
Hummel said those concerns will be taken into consideration, and at that point the BLM could chose to either send the land leases to auction, take no action on the request for auction, or determine (in rare cases) that the land never be available for auction.
However, Hummel stresses that there are definite benefits to the drilling leases her office gives out. Not only does the payment from the companies contribute to federal coffers, but a large portion also goes to the state of Texas.
Plus, the area in question does have existing drill pads that have been fracked in the past and many stress that operations are monitored closely and issues from the gas drilling method are unlikely.
Parts of Denton County have had issues with the gas drilling industry in recent years, especially the City of Denton where a ban on hydraulic fracturing was voted in by the people only to be overturned by the state last year.