Resource development

White River BLM proposes amendment to increase Piceance Basin oil, gas development

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“From a sportsman’s perspective you need tags to be able to hunt animals, you need populations in order to have tags and you need habitat in order to have populations. We need to figure out a way to allow for energy development, but also conserve the resources that make this area special. Right now the BLM has not proposed an alternative that strikes that balance.”

— Luke Schafer, West Slope coordinator for the Colorado Environmental Coalition, about the BLM’s draft amendment to increase oil and natural gas development in the Piceance Basin.

The Bureau of Land Management released Wednesday a draft amendment that could increase oil and natural gas development activity in northwest Colorado.

According to a BLM news release the draft White River Resource Management Plan Oil and Gas Amendment analyzes four options for future oil and natural gas development on 1.7 million acres of federal lease minerals administered by the White River Field Office in Moffat, Rio Blanco and Garfield counties.

Much of the proposed development is focused in Rio Blanco County where a range of development options could add 4,600 to 21,200 new wells in Piceance Basin.

The draft amendment also proposes a variety of mitigation measures to minimize impacts on wildlife and other natural resources.

Though the amendment is in draft form and still needs to navigate its way through the public comment period, many local conservation groups levied harsh criticisms of the plan following its release Wednesday.

Soren Jespersen, northwest Colorado wildlands coordinator for The Wilderness Society, called for a complete revision to the White River Field Office’s entire resource management plan because the environmental impact statement highlighted in the draft amendment was funded by the oil and natural gas industries.

“Despite what the BLM said in its press release Wednesday, it is unprecedented to have the oil and gas industry fund an amendment to the resource management plan,” he said. “As far as I know it has never happened before.”

It’s not uncommon for private entities to fund things like EIS studies for a specific project and Jespersen isn’t opposed to the practice of finding outside funding streams for studies.

He does question, however, the validity of an industry-funded amendment that not only stages the Piceance Basin for the most dramatic increase in oil and natural gas development in Colorado history, but also fails to consider multiple use activities.

“This whole oil and gas amendment was instigated in 2007 right at the height of the boom,” Jespersen said. “Since that time gas prices have dropped drastically and there just isn’t the demand to validate such a dramatic increase in development.”

Jespersen was joined in his dissent of the plan by Luke Schafer, Western Slope coordinator for the Colorado Environmental Coalition.

Schafer, an avid outdoorsman, cited already declining Mule Deer numbers in the Piceance Basin, which he said Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials have connected to habitat loss.

The region also is home to North America’s largest Elk herd.

It’s inconceivable to think, Schafer argued, such a large increase in development would not affect critical Elk and Mule Deer habitat, historical migration routes and winter ranges.

“From a sportsman’s perspective you need tags to be able to hunt animals, you need populations in order to have tags and you need habitat in order to have populations,” Schafer said. “We need to figure out a way to allow for energy development, but also conserve the resources that make this area special.

“Right now the BLM has not proposed an alternative that strikes that balance.”

But David Boyd, BLM public affairs specialist, believes it does, or at least it will once the agency has gone through the 90-day public comment period.

In addition, Boyd believes there’s a misconception among Moffat County conservationists who may not be as familiar with natural gas activity south of the county line.

“When you get a little farther south into what we call the Piceance Basin gas play, there’s a lot more development, it’s not as speculative as what is currently happening in Moffat County,” Boyd said. “This area that we’re talking about is already leased for oil and natural gas development, so this EIS identifies potential impacts and how we would mitigate those impacts on the natural resources we need to protect and manage for multiple uses.”

The draft White River Resource Management Plan Oil and Gas Amendment is available online at http://www.blm.gov/co/st/en/fo/wrfo.html.

The BLM is accepting public comments through Dec. 14 and also has scheduled four informational open houses in late September in Meeker, Rangely, Silt and Grand Junction.

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Joe Moylan can be reached at 875-1794 or jmoylan@craigdailypress.com.

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