Judge blocks Canadian oil company from drilling in San Luis Valley wildlife refuge

A U.S. District Court judge Thursday blocked a Canadian company from exploring or drilling for natural gas in the 79,000-acre Baca National Wildlife Refuge near Great Sand Dunes National Park in southern Colorado’s San Luis Valley.

A coalition of environmental groups challenged a U.S. Fish and Wildlife decision during the Bush administration in 2007 that would have allowed Lexam Explorations to drill for oil and gas on the former Baca Ranch. Lexam purchased the mineral rights before the federal government acquired the ranch for preservation purposes in 2000.

The San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council, Energy Minerals Law Center and San Luis Valley Water Protection Coalition argued the USFWS failed to properly weigh Lexam’s drilling plan under provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

U.S. District Court Judge Walker Miller issued an injunction on drilling activity until all legal challenges are resolved.

“It is undisputed that the refuge contains unique resources, including sensitive wetlands, habitat for a variety of wildlife and fish, aquifers that play an important role in the wetlands and in providing water for the community, clean air, and a large expanse of undeveloped land with a significant ‘sense of place’ and quiet,” Walker wrote in his decision.

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