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Environmentalists and oil industry representatives faced off in federal court on Monday over oil drilling in the Mancos Shale near Chaco Culture National Historical Park in northwestern New Mexico.

A group of environmental organizations filed suit last March to force the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to conduct a new environmental impact study on the effects of oil production in the Mancos Shale near Chaco Canyon.

U.S. Judge James Browning began hearing arguments Monday about whether to impose a moratorium on all new oil permitting in the Mancos until the court case is resolved.

The Mancos, an oil-rich zone in the San Juan Basin, remained undeveloped until recently because oil companies could not profitably mine for hydrocarbons in the hard-rock shale where it’s encased. But in the last few years, modern techniques of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing have, for the first time, allowed industry to economically crack open the Mancos, encouraging Encana Corp. of Canada and WPX Energy of Oklahoma to drill about 150 wells since 2011.

BP America and ConocoPhillips are also interested in developing the Mancos, leading all four companies and the American Petroleum Institute to join the lawsuit in support of the BLM.

“Encana and WPX have drilled over 100 wells in the past four years, together investing over $1 billion in the Mancos, and now they’re being asked to stop,” John Shepherd, attorney for the operators, told Browning. “It would cause enormous harm to the companies if they had to stop at this point.”

But environmentalists say proximity to Chaco Canyon raises concerns about impact on natural resources, Native American communities living in the area and cultural and archaeological sites. They want the BLM to thoroughly study those impacts with public input before approving any new drilling permits.

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So what does this have to do with the MARCELLUS or UTICA shale or even with the Appalachian basin

This is an important federal case and precedent for stopping Horizontal drilling in its tracks. These companies have leases and all drilling can still be stopped by the moratorium. Surely something to watch and oppose nation wide.


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