BLM rejects all 19 challenges to approve Colorado River plan
The Bureau of Land Management rejected all 19 protests from conservation groups, the oil and gas industry and other interests in approving a new resource management plan for the Colorado River Valley Field Office.
Among the matters under dispute in the protests was the degree to which the plan addresses air pollution and other health and environmental impacts from oil and gas development.
Colorado BLM director Ruth Welch signed off last week on that plan and another for the Kremmling Field Office.
The Colorado River Valley Field Office, in Silt, manages more than 500,000 acres of land and more than 700,000 acres of subsurface federal minerals in Garfield, Mesa, Rio Blanco, Pitkin, Eagle and Routt counties. The agency says the majority of the 147,500 acres with high potential for oil and gas production under the office’s jurisdiction are already leased and will continue producing under the plan.
The plan closes 98,100 acres for future leasing, including in the Garfield Creek State Wildlife Area near New Castle, areas managed for wilderness characteristics, areas of critical environmental concern, municipalities and designated recreation areas.
One protest challenged how the BLM measures and mitigates the effects of oil and gas development on human and environmental health.
“We had hoped that BLM would address our concerns by releasing a plan that protects wildlife, water, and air that we all share and depend upon,” Will Roush of the Carbondale-based Wilderness Workshop said in a news release.
“This field office has a lot to balance and as they estimate 15,644 additional gas wells will be drilled in the next 20 years, we asked them to push that balance toward people’s health. We think they missed an opportunity to do so.”
BLM spokesman David Boyd said the agency actually projects an estimated 2,206 new federal wells in the field office over 20 years under the plan, about twice as many as now. However, the agency considered 15,000 wells as the maximum possible number in some air quality modeling “to ensure the air impact model captured any potential impacts,” he said.
The agency has developed an air protection protocol and will be closely monitoring air impacts and adjusting management of activities as needed, he said.
In protests of their own, oil and gas companies and industry groups had questioned whether the BLM had direct legal authority over air quality and emissions, the extent of closures of lands to operations and restrictions on future leasing, and other issues such as whether the plan adequately protects existing lease rights.
David Ludlam, executive director of the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association, noted the use of natural gas in producing medicine, food and consumer products. “Communities must ask if these landmark decisions account for such facts, and if not, seek political change to better acknowledge the role natural gas plays in modern life,” he said.
The Colorado River Valley plan also designates about 680 miles of travel routes for motorized use and 577 miles for nonmotorized use, and will manage five areas totaling 34,400 acres to protect wilderness characteristics, including Thompson Creek near Carbondale and Deep Creek near the east end of Glenwood Canyon.
It also recommends wild and scenic river designation for two stretches of Deep Creek.
The Kremmling plan includes the North Park master leasing plan, which covers nearly 400,000 acres of federally owned minerals and is aimed at facilitating drilling while protecting wildlife, recreation, and air and water quality.