Moffat County officials question BLM’s land management plan | CraigDailyPress.com

Moffat County officials question BLM’s land management plan

Patrick Kelly

On March 27, the Bureau of Land Management's White River Field Office released a proposed oil and gas amendment to its 1997 resource management plan.

The plan accounts for the impact associated with developing more than 15,000 oil and gas wells on 1,100 pads over the next 20 years. According to BLM, that level of development has the potential to yield 7.5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, enough to heat 7.5 million homes for 15 years.

Weighing in at 17.9 pounds, the six-volume BLM document focuses on ramping up protection for public land surrounding Dinosaur National Monument, but energy industry experts are worried it will stifle development, especially in Moffat County.

"For Moffat County, this is a devastating document," said David Ludlam, executive director of West Slope Colorado Oil & Gas Association.

Moffat County Commissioner Chuck Grobe and Natural Resource Director Jeff Comstock echoed concerns voiced by Ludlam.

In contrast, environmental advocates are touting this as one of the largest oil and gas development plans in Colorado history.

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"BLM did this entire plan as a concession to the oil and gas industry," said Conservation Colorado's West Slope Advocacy Director Luke Schafer.

The proposed amendment frameworks an effort to mitigate the impact of oil and gas production across Northwest Colorado and includes incentives for energy companies to reduce surface disturbance and wildlife disruption.

"We're looking to balance the energy development we expect to continue in this area with protecting sensitive resources and managing the other uses of the land," said David Boyd, public affairs specialist for the White River Field Office.

Although the plan only applies to federal land, apprehension arises within the energy industry when the practicality of implementing the amendment is taken into account. According to Comstock, leasing on private land could be inhibited.

"Technically, if you holler at BLM and say, 'Oh my goodness, you've stopped us from drilling,' they'll say, 'no, we can lease this,'" Comstock said. "But then in reality, you can't actually get to it."

The plan is still subject to change as it undergoes a 30-day period for public protest and 60-day governor's consistency review, but at this point it remains polarizing.

"This isn't a balance plan, this is still an industrial development plan," Schafer said.

Ludlam recognized the effort that goes into resource management planning and said despite some disagreements with the amendment, the goal of the oil and gas association is to be diligent in their analysis and provide valid feedback.

"It's easy to come out and be flippant and dismissive about these things — that's not our intent," he said.

One of the less contentious aspects of the plan exempts energy companies from seasonal drilling restrictions if they meet certain standards, a concept that does not exist under the current RMP.

"It's a way to allow year-round drilling, which operators need in order to function," Comstock said.

Regardless, energy industry advocates are voicing a multitude of concerns regarding the practicality of the amendment and how regulations will affect future development.

"It's like getting the camel's nose under the tent, you get in there and then take a little bit more and a little bit more," Grobe said.

Reach Patrick Kelly at 970-875-1795 or pkelly@craigdailypress.com. Follow him on Twitter @M_Pkelly.

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