PROJECT: HUNTER’S POINT NATURAL GAS WELL DRILLING PROJECT
PUBLIC NOTICE NUMBER: 2011-00065N
PUBLIC NOTICE DATE: March 15, 2021
COMMENTS DUE DATE: April 2, 2021
PERMIT MANAGER: R. Morganstern | TELEPHONE: 415-503-6782 | E-MAIL: Roberta.A.Morganstern@usace.army.mil
1. INTRODUCTION: Robert Nunn, of Sunset Exploration, located at 10500 Brentwood Boulevard, Brentwood, California, through its agent, Hope Kingma of WRA, Inc. (POC: Hope Kingma (415-454-8868), has applied to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), San Francisco District, for a Department of the Army Permit to discharge fill into jurisdictional wetlands for Phase 1 and Phase 2 of a natural gas well drilling project. Phase 1 would require 1.05 acres of fill in jurisdictional wetlands to explore the potential of natural gas production in a new well (Phase 1). Phase 2 of the project would be development of the well for production resulting in an additional 0.31 acres of fill for a total of 3,800 cubic yards of fill impacts to 1.36 acres of jurisdictional wetlands from both Phase 1 and Phase 2 of the project. This Department of the Army permit application is being processed pursuant to the provisions of Section 404 of the Clean Water Act of 1972, as amended (33 U.S.C. § 1344 et seq.).
2. PROPOSED PROJECT:
Project Site Location: The proposed project site is on private duck club lands in the Suisun Marsh, within southern Solano County, California approximately 5 miles southwest of Suisun City, and 6.8 miles northeast of Benicia. The proposed project site is to the west of the Joyce Island State Game Refuge and Suisun Slough. Access to the project site is from Chadbourne Road, a Solano County maintained gravel road off SR 12.
Project Site Description: The proposed project site is primarily managed coastal brackish marsh with areas of ruderal grassland on upland berms, and riverine habitat adjacent to Suisun Slough. The area is utilized mainly for recreational purposes including boating, seasonal duck hunting, fishing, hiking and wildlife viewing.
Project Description: As shown in the attached drawings, the applicant proposes to drill one exploratory natural gas well, 150 feet by 250 feet area, over a 2-3 week period at the Hunter’s Point Project Site. If economical quantities of natural gas are discovered, Sunset Exploration would install production equipment and a natural gas pipeline from the producing well to an existing natural gas pipeline located approximately 8,821 feet to the northwest. The proposed project includes two phases: a site exploration phase (#1) and a production phase (#2).
Project area boundaries would be clearly delineated by project biologists to ensure all activities are confined to the approved work area. After vegetation is removed from the well pad area a layer of filter fabric would be placed over the surface and fill materials consisting of sand and/or base rock would be used to construct the approximately 150 feet by 250 feet (1.05 acres) well pad. Existing gravel roads would be used to provide access from Chadbourne Road to the proposed project area. A new 100 foot by 10-foot gravel access road would be constructed from the existing gravel road to the proposed drill pad. The project proponent estimates that approximately 2 – 3 weeks would be needed to prepare the site for exploration identified as Phase 1. If conditions indicate production would be feasible, Phase 2 would prepare a production facility with a 175 foot by 300 foot drill pad, installation of water tanks and an 8,821 foot pipeline for collection and distribution. A 6-inch low-pressure gas pipeline would need to be installed from the well site to an existing natural gas pipeline. This pipeline would be installed within existing access roads where feasible, although it would not be installed in the levee road adjacent to Suisun Slough. The proposed pipeline would be installed using traditional open-cut trench and boring methods.
Basic Project Purpose: The basic project purpose comprises the fundamental, essential, or irreducible purpose of the project, and is used by USACE to determine whether the project is water dependent. The basic project purpose is natural gas extraction.
Overall Project Purpose: The overall project purpose serves as the basis for the Section 404(b)(1) alternatives analysis and is determined by further defining the basic project purpose in a manner that more specifically describes the applicant's goals for the project while allowing a reasonable range of alternatives to be analyzed. The overall project purpose is to locate and develop an economically feasible source of natural gas in the Suisun Marsh.
Project Impacts: Phase 1 discharge fill into 1.05 acres of jurisdictional wetlands to explore the potential of natural gas production in an existing well, which has been plugged. Phase 2 of the project would be development of the well for production with an additional 0.31 acres of fill resulting in a total of 3,800 cubic yards of fill impacts to 1.36 acres of jurisdictional wetlands to expand the well head for production, construct transmission line, and install tanks for natural gas storage.
Proposed Mitigation: A Wellhead Monitoring and Mitigation Plan was prepared by WRA and submitted with the application and describes minimization and mitigation measures for the proposed project. Exploration efforts will take place during the dry season to avoid adverse impacts to federally-listed plant and animal species. Temporary impacts to wetlands from Phase 1 and construction impacts to salt marsh harvest mouse habitat would be mitigated for at the Cordelia Slough Preserve, owned by Wildlands, on the west side of Suisun Marsh. If the project concludes after Phase 1, the drilling area and adjacent uplands will be restored to pre-fill conditions by removing the equipment, fill and the filter fabric. The applicant has proposed off-site compensatory mitigation for Phase 2 in west Suisun Marsh at the Cordelia Slough Preserve. The mitigation for wetlands impacts is proposed to be 11.25 acres of wetland enhancement.
Project Alternatives: USACE has not endorsed the submitted alternatives analysis at this time. USACE will conduct an independent review of the project alternatives prior to reaching a final permit decision.
Gas exploration wells are limited to legal gas exploration lease areas. Drilling directly over the gas resource with a vertical shaft is more efficient than directional drilling from a farther location. Using existing infrastructure is presumably more practicable than creation of new infrastructure.
The applicant has identified three off-site alternatives, on Grizzly Island. All off-site alternatives would require a drill pad and production infrastructure for Phase 2 similar to the proposed project. Off-site Alternative A would be located in private duck club lands adjacent to Montezuma Slough and would require a minimum of 1.5 acres of wetland fill and construction of new access roads and a collection and delivery pipeline. Off-site Alternative B would be located on private duck club lands on Grizzly Island and in addition to wetland fill for a drill pad would require construction of a new bridge, and construction of 2.8 miles of new pipeline in the marsh adjacent to existing levees. The off-site Alternative C site is part of a private duck club. Under Alternative C Phase 1 would only require 0.02 acres of wetland fill to access an upland drill pad. However, Phase 2 would require a new access road and bridge and installation of 2.2 miles of new pipeline.
The applicant has identified two on-site alternatives, the proposed project, and the original Veneco proposal (Veneco Alternative). The Veneco Alternative would occur at the same location and would drill three wells in one location. Fill impacts would include approximately 1.3 acres of wetland and 0.2 acres of upland for the drill site and an additional 1.89 acres of wetland for pipeline installation.
3. STATE AND LOCAL APPROVALS:
Water Quality Certification: State water quality certification or a waiver thereof is a prerequisite for the issuance of a Department of the Army Permit to conduct any activity which may result in a fill or pollutant discharge into waters of the United States, pursuant to Section 401 of the Clean Water Act of 1972, as amended (33 U.S.C. § 1341 et seq.). The applicant has recently submitted an application to the California Regional Water Quality Control Board (RWQCB) to obtain water quality certification for the project. The applicant is hereby notified that, unless USACE is provided documentation indicating a complete application for water quality certification has been submitted to the RWQCB within 30 days of this Public Notice date, the District Engineer may consider the Department of the Army permit application to be withdrawn. No Department of the Army Permit will be issued until the applicant obtains the required certification or a waiver of certification. A waiver can be explicit, or it may be presumed if the RWQCB fails or refuses to act on a complete application for water quality certification within 60 days of receipt, unless the District Engineer determines a shorter or longer period is a reasonable time for the RWQCB to act.
Water quality issues should be directed to the Executive Officer, California Regional Water Quality Control Board, San Francisco Bay Region, 1515 Clay Street, Suite 1400, Oakland, California 94612, by the close of the comment period.
Coastal Zone Management: Section 307(c) of the Coastal Zone Management Act of 1972, as amended (16 U.S.C. § 1456(c) et seq.), requires a non-Federal applicant seeking a federal license or permit to conduct any activity occurring in or affecting the coastal zone to obtain a Consistency Certification that indicates the activity conforms with the state’s coastal zone management program. Generally, no federal license or permit will be granted until the appropriate State agency has issued a Consistency Determination or has waived its right to do so. This presumption of effect, however, remains subject to a final determination by the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission
Other Local Approvals: The applicant will be applying for the following additional governmental authorizations for the project: Solano County Land Use Authorization.
4. COMPLIANCE WITH VARIOUS FEDERAL LAWS:
National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA): Upon review of the Department of the Army permit application and other supporting documentation, USACE has made a preliminary determination that the project neither qualifies for a Categorical Exclusion nor requires the preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement for the purposes of NEPA. At the conclusion of the public comment period, USACE will assess the environmental impacts of the project in accordance with the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (42 U.S.C. §§ 4321-4347), the Council on Environmental Quality's regulations at 40 C.F.R. § 1500‑1508, and USACE regulations at 33 C.F.R. § 325. The final NEPA analysis will normally address the direct and indirect impacts that result from regulated activities within the jurisdiction of USACE and other non-regulated activities USACE determines to be within its purview of Federal control and responsibility to justify an expanded scope of analysis for NEPA purposes. The final NEPA analysis will be incorporated in the decision documentation that provides the rationale for issuing or denying a Department of the Army Permit for the project. The final NEPA analysis and supporting documentation will be on file with the San Francisco District, Regulatory Division.
Endangered Species Act (ESA): Section 7(a)(2) of the ESA of 1973, as amended (16 U.S.C. § 1531 et seq.), requires Federal agencies to consult with either the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) or the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to ensure actions authorized, funded, or undertaken by the agency are not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of any Federally-listed species or result in the adverse modification of designated critical habitat. As the Federal lead agency for this project, USACE has conducted a review of the California Natural Diversity Data Base, digital maps prepared by USFWS and NMFS depicting critical habitat, and other information provided by the applicant to determine the presence or absence of such species and critical habitat in the project area. Based on this review, USACE has made a preliminary determination that the following Federally-listed species are present at the project location or in its vicinity and may be affected by project implementation. The proposed project area contains suitable foraging and nesting habitat for the federally-listed Ridgway’s rail (Rallus longirostris obsoletus) and salt-marsh harvest mouse (Reithrodontomys raviventris). To address project related impacts to these species USACE has initiated formal consultation with USFWS pursuant to Section 7(a) of the Act. Any required consultation must be concluded prior to the issuance of a Department of the Army Permit for the project.
Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSFCMA): Section 305(b)(2) of the MSFCMA of 1966, as amended (16 U.S.C. § 1801 et seq.), requires Federal agencies to consult with the NMFS on all proposed actions authorized, funded, or undertaken by the agency that may adversely affect essential fish habitat (EFH). EFH is defined as those waters and substrate necessary to fish for spawning, breeding, feeding, or growth to maturity. EFH is designated only for those species managed under a Federal Fisheries Management Plan (FMP), such as the Pacific Groundfish FMP, the Coastal Pelagics FMP, or the Pacific Coast Salmon FMP. As the Federal lead agency for this project, USACE has conducted a review of digital maps prepared by NMFS depicting EFH to determine the presence or absence of EFH in the project area. Based on this review, USACE has made a preliminary determination that EFH is not present at the project location or in its vicinity and that consultation will not be required. USACE will render a final determination on the need for consultation at the close of the comment period, taking into account any comments provided by NMFS.
Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act (MPRSA): Section 302 of the MPRSA of 1972, as amended (16 U.S.C. § 1432 et seq.), authorizes the Secretary of Commerce, in part, to designate areas of ocean waters, such as the Cordell Bank, Gulf of the Farallones, and Monterey Bay, as National Marine Sanctuaries for the purpose of preserving or restoring such areas for their conservation, recreational, ecological, or aesthetic values. After such designation, activities in sanctuary waters authorized under other authorities are valid only if the Secretary of Commerce certifies that the activities are consistent with Title III of the Act. No Department of the Army Permit will be issued until the applicant obtains any required certification or permit. The project does not occur in sanctuary waters, and a preliminary review by USACE indicates the project would not affect sanctuary resources. This presumption of effect, however, remains subject to a final determination by the Secretary of Commerce or his designee.
National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA): Section 106 of the NHPA of 1966, as amended (16 U.S.C. § 470 et seq.), requires Federal agencies to consult with the appropriate State Historic Preservation Officer to take into account the effects of their undertakings on historic properties listed in or eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. Section 106 of the Act further requires Federal agencies to consult with the appropriate Tribal Historic Preservation Officer or any Indian tribe to take into account the effects of their undertakings on historic properties, including traditional cultural properties, trust resources, and sacred sites, to which Indian tribes attach historic, religious, and cultural significance. As the Federal lead agency for this undertaking, USACE has conducted a review of the latest published version of the National Register of Historic Places, survey information on file with various city and county municipalities, and other information provided by the applicant to determine the presence or absence of historic and archaeological resources within the permit area. Based on this review, USACE has made a preliminary determination that historic or archaeological resources are not likely to be present in the permit area and that the project either has no potential to cause effects to these resources or has no effect to these resources. USACE will render a final determination on the need for consultation at the close of the comment period, taking into account any comments provided by the State Historic Preservation Officer, the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, and Native American Nations or other tribal governments. If unrecorded archaeological resources are discovered during project implementation, those operations affecting such resources will be temporarily suspended until USACE concludes Section 106 consultation with the State Historic Preservation Officer or the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer to take into account any project related impacts to those resources.
5. COMPLIANCE WITH THE SECTION 404(b)(1) GUIDELINES: Projects resulting in discharges of dredged or fill material into waters of the United States must comply with the Guidelines promulgated by the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency under Section 404(b) of the Clean Water Act (33 U.S.C. § 1344(b)). An evaluation pursuant to the Guidelines indicates the project is not dependent on location in or proximity to waters of the United States to achieve the basic project purpose. This conclusion raises the (rebuttable) presumption of the availability of a less environmentally damaging practicable alternative to the project that does not require the discharge of dredged or fill material into special aquatic sites. The applicant has submitted an analysis of project alternatives which is being reviewed by USACE.
6. PUBLIC INTEREST EVALUTION: The decision on whether to issue a Department of the Army Permit will be based on an evaluation of the probable impacts, including cumulative impacts, of the project and its intended use on the public interest. Evaluation of the probable impacts requires a careful weighing of the public interest factors relevant in each particular case. The benefits that may accrue from the project must be balanced against any reasonably foreseeable detriments of project implementation. The decision on permit issuance will, therefore, reflect the national concern for both protection and utilization of important resources. Public interest factors which may be relevant to the decision process include conservation, economics, aesthetics, general environmental concerns, wetlands, cultural values, fish and wildlife values, flood hazards, floodplain values, land use, navigation, shore erosion and accretion, recreation, water supply and conservation, water quality, energy needs, safety, food and fiber production, mineral needs, considerations of property ownership, and, in general, the needs and welfare of the people.
7. CONSIDERATION OF COMMENTS: USACE is soliciting comments from the public; Federal, State, and local agencies and officials; Native American Nations or other tribal governments; and other interested parties in order to consider and evaluate the impacts of the project. All comments received by USACE will be considered in the decision on whether to issue, modify, condition, or deny a Department of the Army Permit for the project. To make this decision, comments are used to assess impacts on endangered species, historic properties, water quality, and other environmental or public interest factors addressed in a final environmental assessment or environmental impact statement. Comments are also used to determine the need for a public hearing and to determine the overall public interest in the project.
8. SUBMITTING COMMENTS: During the specified comment period, interested parties may submit written comments to Roberta Morganstern San Francisco District, Regulatory Division electronically during the pandemic to Roberta.A.Morganstern@usace.army.mil. Comment letters should cite the project name, applicant name, and public notice number to facilitate review by the Regulatory Permit Manager. Comments may include a request for a public hearing on the project prior to a determination on the Department of the Army permit application; such requests shall state, with particularity, the reasons for holding a public hearing. All substantive comments will be forwarded to the applicant for resolution or rebuttal. Additional project information or details on any subsequent project modifications of a minor nature may be obtained from the applicant and/or agent or by contacting the Regulatory Permit Manager by telephone or e-mail (cited in the public notice letterhead). An electronic version of this public notice may be viewed under the Public Notices tab on the USACE website: https://www.spn.usace.army.mil/Missions/Regulatory.