Flagstaff/Red Gap water quality at risk from fracking

Flagstaff   Flagstaff’s future water supply is a target for potentially harmful toxins.  Red Gap Ranch, located 40 miles east of Flagstaff, was purchased in 2005 to ensure Flagstaff has adequate water for the future. Along the way there have been issues with the process of getting the water to Flagstaff, but now our future supply is faced with a more serious threat. 

Red Gap Ranch, AZ near Winslow is future water development site for Flagstaff.

In January 2019, the Flagstaff City Manager at the time, Barbara Goodrich, entered into an MOU (memorandum of understanding) with the global energy company, Desert Mountain Energy (DME), who had already obtained State  Land and BLM land for the purposes of drilling for helium. The MOU was to provide access to the City’s Red Gap Ranch (RGR) lands and to allow seismic testing and mapping of the grounds under RGR, and to then provide that data to the City. Helium is used in many technological processes including  MRI Machines, particle accelerators, data centers, hard drives and is relatively rare, with the highest known concentrations in the world occurring in the Holbrook Basin of Arizona.

DME’s request was reviewed by the City’s water services division, real estate manager, city attorney’s office, the property & development team (including staff from several divisions), and economic development staff. The staff consensus was that seismic testing could be conducted and access granted to RGR, and that the City would receive any seismic information received. 

Flagstaff citizens are not the only group that are concerned for the safety of our future water supply. According to a press release from the Center for Biological Diversity in July, three non profits are suing the Bureau of Land Management for selling public lands oil and gas leases to DME and another companies without undertaking any environmental review.  The parcels in question in this lawsuit are near Woodruff, Holbrook, and Petrified Forest.  

The suit states, “the U.S. Bureau of Land Management violated several federal laws by refusing to conduct new environmental reviews or consult with area tribes when it approved the leases. Instead the agency issued two “determination of NEPA adequacy” checklists, claiming a 1988 resource management plan that predates modern fracking technology satisfies its legal obligations under the National Environmental Policy Act.”  

This map shows the Red Gap Ranch, a few miles west of Winslow. The checkerboard paternities of pink and purple shows Flagstaff city lands interspersed with AZ State Land Trust lands where Desert Mountain Energy has filed for permits to mine Helium. The map show that DME will be fracking within a mile of Flagstaff water wells.

The press release also indicates that “A recent state permit for helium fracking on nearby lands authorized acid “stimulation” on about 80 wells.”  This is interesting in light of the January 14th public City Council report that indicates that “Helium mining would not require fracking.”  

There are two types of well stimulation currently allowed in Arizona: Acid stimulation, and Proppant stimulation.  Acid is used to “etch” channels in the rock to dissolve the materials that impede gas flow and Proppant is a mixture of mostly sand and water pumped at a high enough rate and pressure to fracture and prop open the nearby rock.  These processes are also known as hydraulic fracturing.    

To the right is a map of the Coconino Aquifer and  a map of the Holbrook basin, containing the richest deposit of helium gas to date, showing almost total overlap.

Groups involved in monitoring Arizona’s water around fracking issues include, NoFrackingAZ.org, and Protect Our Water Arizona, Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, and WildEarth Guardians. 

Going forward we await to hear from the City of Flagstaff regarding whether or not they plan to protect the future water supply from any contamination of water in the parcels of land surrounding the RGR. 


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