Vermillion Basin in Northwest Colorado is a point of contention between the pro-energy development Moffat County Commissioners and environmental groups such as the Wilderness Society that would like to see the area protected. The Bureau of Land Management has the final word in the development of public lands under their charge as part of the Little Snake Resource Area.

Photo by Dan Olsen

Vermillion Basin in Northwest Colorado is a point of contention between the pro-energy development Moffat County Commissioners and environmental groups such as the Wilderness Society that would like to see the area protected. The Bureau of Land Management has the final word in the development of public lands under their charge as part of the Little Snake Resource Area.

Wilderness Society replies to letter

Conservationists criticize commissioners

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— The Wilderness Society has issued a strongly-worded letter in response to a letter from the Moffat County Commissioners to Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter.

The commissioners' letter objected to Ritter's recent efforts to prevent drilling for oil and gas in Vermillion Basin.

"The Moffat County Commissioners' inflammatory rhetoric and criticism of the governor for visiting their county does a great disservice to the ongoing public discussion over how the spectacular public lands of Northwest Colorado should be managed," said Suzanne Jones, Regional Director for the Wilderness Society's Central Rockies Office. "We are talking about the future of public lands owned by all Americans, not Moffat County."

The letter goes on to say the Bureau of Land Management draft plan calls for the leasing of 93 percent of the Little Snake Resource Area to oil and gas drilling.

"If the Moffat County Com-missioners are concerned about drilling revenues, they should focus on production from land that is already leased," Jones said. "That represents a much greater source of revenue than the Vermillion Basin."

The Wilderness Society press release said 61 percent of the leased land in Colorado has not been put into energy production, and the oil and gas industry appears to be stockpiling millions of acres of public land. It also stated the potential gas supply under Vermillion Basin would meet the nation's consumption amount for only 10 days, at a cost of wildlife habitat, prehistoric rock art, backcountry recreation and children's heritage.

"Towns and counties throughout the region have been experiencing devastating social and financial consequences as a result of the frenzy of oil and gas drilling," the Wilderness Society's Michelle Haefele said. "Because Vermillion Basin represents less than 5 percent of the gas resource in the region, putting this spectacular landscape off limits to drilling would actually have very little impact on Moffat County's economy."

A bigger question facing Colorado residents, said Dr. Pete Morton with the Wilderness Society, is how to ensure wildlife habitat, clean air and water, Craig itself and other communities are not sacrificed by the oil and gas drilling that is "pounding" Colorado's Western Slope.

The Wilderness Society said it is "entirely reasonable" for the governor to re-evaluate the state's position on energy development, given all the new information and science available on damage to wildlife populations and clean air and water from oil and gas drilling.

They continue by saying "Moffat County's drilling proposal in no way represents a consensus proposal - it was a product of the county and (former Gov. Bill) Owens administration."

Dan Olsen can be reached at 824-7031, ext.207, or dolsen@craigdailypress.com

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