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Pecos exploratory drilling faces stricter environmental assessment

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Santa Fe National Forest officials are now reviewing a proposed exploratory drilling project near Tererro using an in-depth environmental assessment process.

Comexico, a subsidiary of Australian mining company New World Resources, first proposed in June 2019 to drill up to 30 holes on a few acres of federal land north of Pecos to determine whether copper, gold and zinc deposits are present.

Steve Romero, District Ranger for the Pecos/Las Vegas forest district, said officials originally believed the proposal could be reviewed using a categorical exclusion process.

“We look at threatened and endangered species as it could relate to the project, flood plains and wetlands or municipal watersheds, wilderness areas and American Indian religious or cultural sites,” Romero said. “Then we look at public comment to see if we missed anything when it comes to impacts on those resources. If we see a potential issue with one of those, that’s where the CE process won’t work for us.”

Concerns about the area’s cultural significance prompted the more in-depth type of review, Forest Service geologist Larry Gore said.

“Next week, our archaeologist and tribal relations specialists are meeting with tribes to further define what the concerns with the site are,” Gore said.

The SFNF can require the company to control stormwater runoff, cease operations during Mexican spotted owl breeding season, or avoid sensitive plants such as the holy ghost ipomopsis flower. But the agency cannot prohibit mineral exploration or mining on federal land.

Patrick Siglin, Comexico exploration manager, said the change means the company is considering applying to drill during three shorter winter seasons instead of just one.

Comexico uses a third-party contractor to conduct biological and cultural surveys and shares those reports with the Forest Service.

“We’re really hopeful that we can get this project underway,” Siglin said. “Mines these days are not the same as they were 100 years ago. We know a big concern is surface water quality related to runoff potential of any disturbance we make, so we’ve put together a road maintenance plan to address that.”

Comexico also has an ongoing permit application with New Mexico’s Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department.

Members of the Stop Tererro Mine coalition applauded the use of an environmental assessment process. A 1991 spill at the old Tererro mine site killed thousands of fish at a downstream hatchery and prompted a costly cleanup.

Frank Adelo, president of the Upper Pecos Watershed Association, said in a statement that the new process “must take into account the past, present and future impacts of the project on the delicate environment of the Jones Hill area of SFNF.”

The Forest Service could release a draft environmental assessment of the proposed drilling as early as this fall.

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