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The ground rules seem to have been set concerning the sexual assault allegations against nominee Brett Kavenaugh. Also on the Monday rundown: we will take you to a state where more than 60 thousand kids are chronically absent; plus the rural digital divide a two-fold problem for Kentucky.

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San Juan Basin: How Many Gas Wells are 'Too Many?'

December 31, 2009

DENVER - Thousands of oil and gas wells dot the San Juan Basin in the "Four Corners" area, and conservation groups say that's enough. Their 2008 lawsuit to stop additional development in the rugged, low-elevation HD Mountains took another step on Dec. 30, when attorneys for oil and gas developers, conservation groups and federal agencies continued a tug-of-war in a Denver courtroom over whether to allow about 140 gas wells to be drilled in an area east of Durango, Colorado.

Five of the conservation groups, including the San Juan Citizens Alliance and The Wilderness Society, are being represented by Earthjustice. They're asking U.S. District Court Justice Richard Matsch to stop any new drilling while he considers their request to overturn Forest Service approval of the wells.

At the heart of the controversy, says Earthjustice attorney Mike Freeman, are planning documents that outlined protections for the area - protections that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Forest Service now say were not set in stone.

"This really is the last small corner of the San Juan Basin that hasn't been drilled. The federal government just ignored its promises to protect the HDs and preserve the wildlife and the old-growth forests there, that make it so important."

The San Juan Basin is already home to tens of thousands of oil and gas wells, according to Freeman. He calls the Forest Service stand on this project "a shell game."

"When they approved the project, they acknowledged that it was inconsistent with a lot of the commitments they made to protect the HD Mountains. But they said that they would just address those violations and correct them, when they approve individual wells to implement the project."

Freeman says the area's combination of rugged terrain and low elevation is what makes it good wildlife habitat; it is also part of a larger watershed used by farms and ranches for irrigation. About 20 of the wells are already underway.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - NM