RMR may be using water study to drill exploratory holes

The Rocky Mountain Resources quarry north of the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park is shown in this October 2018 file photo.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent file

RMR Industrials is trying to use a water study to drill exploratory holes at its quarry without a county permit, according to Garfield County staff.

The hydrology study is one of several required scientific studies needed before the Bureau of Land Management begins an environmental review of RMR’s quarry expansion proposal.

But in the August request letter, RMR also said it is seeking “permission to keep any core from the five test holes for exploration purposes.”

If RMR goes through with drilling, that could once again put the company in violation of county code.

“The proposed action is not a typical baseline study, rather it is instead an exploratory drilling program that is part of RMR’s overall development expansion activity,” county manager Fred Jarman said Monday.

The hydrology study doesn’t require taking core samples of the rock, according to Jarman. RMR is proposing “a core drilling technique that will retrieve rock that is unrelated to, and unnecessary, for a hydrology study,” Jarman said.

Jarman and other staff drafted a letter to the BLM as part of a scoping period for the proposed hydrological study.

Because of the potential violation, and other environmental concerns, the county is asking the BLM to conduct a more rigorous impact review of the proposed well drilling.

The BLM is considering using a categorical exclusion for the hydrology study, the lowest level of environmental review, but opened up a comment period due to the high interest in the quarry. The comment period closes on Thursday.

The new exploratory drilling request is an issue of concern for the county, since RMR’s special use permit, inherited when it purchased the Mid-Continent quarry from CalX, specifically prohibits exploratory drilling.

“If RMR proceeds with such action without a county permit, it will violate county law,” Jarman said.

In November 2019, the BLM used the categorical exclusion to allow RMR to drill several exploratory holes. That action in part led the county to issue a notice of violation to RMR in April. RMR has sued the county over the notice of violation, and that lawsuit is ongoing.

RMR proposes drilling five exploratory monitoring wells, between 150 and 250 feet deep. The drill sites include one on the Transfer Trail leading up to the quarry, one near the top of the hill where RMR would like to start limestone extraction, and three at various points along the hillside.

Beyond the exploratory drilling, the county has concerns that the water monitoring wells could damage underground caves or contaminate spring water.

“RMR’s proposed drilling could irreparably disrupt or even contaminate the intricate or interconnected system of underground caves and karsts through which water flows before feeding into the Glenwood Hot Springs, for example,” Jarman said.

Jarman also claimed that RMR misrepresented a geophysical study of the area.

RMR hired outside consultants to look for potential caves near the proposed well sites, and found “a few features of interest in the proposed drilling areas but only a couple that could reasonably be thought to have cave type qualities,” according to their request letter.

That misrepresents the actual geophysical report, Jarman said, which found a total of eight features of interest, and didn’t analyze one proposed well site.

The consultants concluded that “It does not appear that drilling at these locations will intersect any significant karst features to depth of approximately 170 feet,” according to the karst report.

The study only analyzed down to 170 feet below the surface, but RMR is requesting permission to drill down to 250 feet, Jarman noted.

The BLM did not release the cave study online as part of the scoping documents online, but said they would be made available upon request.

“If someone wants to see those documents, they’re available, but the scoping is for the specific plan to drill the water wells,” BLM spokesman David Boyd said.

The five drill sites would be along a BLM road, the old Transfer Trail route, with minimal impact to nearby plants and trees, according to RMR.

RMR said in their letter that they asked the owners of Iron Mountain Hot Springs and the Hot Springs Pool for permission to collect water samples from the private land. Both parties declined to be involved, so they will not be included in the study.

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