10 new pacts will protect wildlife habitat

Ten agreements with energy companies under the state’s new oil and gas rules will protect more than 550 square miles of wildlife habitat in northwest Colorado, Gov. Bill Ritter said Tuesday.

The protections cover 355,000 acres, including 150,000 acres under a new agreement reached between ExxonMobil Corp. and the state Division of Wildlife, Ritter said during a news conference in Denver.

The agreements make use of voluntary provisions included in new drilling rules implemented last year.

Northwest Colorado is home to important habitat for deer, elk, cutthroat trout, sage grouse and other wildlife, as well as to the state’s most intensive amount of oil and gas development.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission’s rules rewrite has been one of the key and most controversial actions of the Ritter administration.

“We knew that if we listened to oil and gas developers and to local officials and to the conservation community, we could strike the balance. We could be stubborn stewards of our wildlife heritage and still develop our natural resources responsibly,” he said Tuesday.

The ExxonMobil agreement takes in mostly federal land in Rio Blanco County and is being reviewed by the Bureau of Land Management.

EnCana Oil & Gas (USA) Inc. signed the first major wildlife agreement for its 44,713-acre North Parachute Ranch.

Other agreements involve:

Williams, 38,210 acres south of the Colorado River and 27,420 acres north of the river in Garfield County;

Antero Resources, 25,599 acres in the Rifle-Silt area.

Black Hills Exploration & Production, 23,420 acres in Garfield and Mesa counties.

Marathon Oil Co., 20,261 acres in Garfield County.

Noble Energy Inc., 19,200 acres in Garfield and Mesa counties.

Delta Petroleum, 3,840 acres in Mesa County.

Gunnison Energy Corp., 2,400 acres in Gunnison County.

EnCana official Bryan Gale said in prepared comments Tuesday, “Efforts such as these wildlife mitigation plans demonstrate the responsible development of clean-burning natural gas while protecting wildlife and habitat. And the working relationships with regulatory agencies make these plans possible.”

John Gale, regional representative for the National Wildlife Federation, said the wildlife plans are further proof that, despite past criticism that the new rules are killing jobs, oil and gas development “is alive and well here in Colorado” and can be balanced with habitat protection.

“We never wanted to see Colorado become an energy colony for the rest of the country, and I think these plans go a long way toward maintaining that (wildlife) heritage and integrity so that we don’t,” he said.


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