BLM furloughs hit energy industry

Federal agency forced to suspend nearly all services on Western Slope

A furlough of most Bureau of Land Management employees Tuesday forced the suspension of most of its services and closure of numerous facilities, while leaving the oil and gas industry assessing the impacts to regional operations.

The BLM said the partial government shutdown resulted in the furloughing of 677 of its roughly 708 employees in Colorado, with 154 employees being on call after initial shutdown activities.

Nationally, about 10,200 out of 10,800 employees were furloughed, with 500 on call.

The BLM said nearly all services would be suspended, with some exceptions being law enforcement, emergency response and firefighting. About 4,000 visitor centers, facilities, campgrounds, boat ramps and other recreation sites have been closed. Some roads also have been closed, although BLM lands remain open to use.

Everything from timber sales to wild horse adoptions to work on resource management plans, even ones with court deadlines, has been suspended.

So has action on drilling permit applications, lease sale processing, environmental reviews and other aspects of energy development.

However, oil and gas oversight remains.

“Employees responsible for inspection and enforcement will be needed to perform and oversee actions such as well shut-ins, re-completions, and downhole/equipment changes in drilling/plugging operations. A limited number of employees will also be needed to patrol oil and gas field(s) to make sure that theft of oil or condensate is not occurring,” according to a BLM contingency plan published at the Department of Interior website.

Susan Alvillar of WPX Energy called the shutdown unfortunate for BLM employees.

“WPX worked diligently in advance with the BLM to process paperwork in anticipation of the potential for a shutdown. At this point, it is too early to say what actual impact this situation will have,” she said.

Encana USA believes it will be more difficult to get day-to-day approvals to modify drilling and completion plans on federal lands, and worries about setbacks in permit approvals and in preparation of environmental impact statements and resource management plans that apply to its operations.

“We’re certainly going to see delays compound, from on-the-ground operations all the way up to major project delays,” said Paul Ulrich, who works in government and regulatory affairs for Encana.

David Ludlam, executive director of the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association, said the energy impacts of the shutdown threaten both the regional economy and federal income.

“By closing that off you’re eliminating one of the critical revenue sources that Congress is so desperate for,” he said.


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