BLM advisory group against drilling ban in Vermillion Basin

A diverse advisory group to the Bureau of Land Management is criticizing plans to prohibit oil and gas drilling in the 77,000-acre Vermillion Basin northwest of Craig.

The Northwest Resource Advisory Council is calling on the BLM not to proceed with issuing a final decision that would reverse earlier plans to allow drilling there. The council says the recently proposed reversal represents a Washington-imposed policy that ignores the BLM’s previous preference for a locally generated compromise proposal to allow drilling that disturbs just 1 percent of the basin at a time.

“If BLM’s decision to not allow 1 percent drilling in Vermillion Basin is allowed to stand, it undermines any value in the collaborative process,” the council says in a letter to the agency.

However, the 15 members of the group were not unanimous about sending the letter. Both environmental representatives voted against it, a Colorado Division of Wildlife representative abstained and another representative was absent.

BLM spokesman David Boyd said the agency values input of advisory councils — even non-unanimous positions — because of the diversity of their makeup. The Northwest Resource Advisory Council has representation from local governments, the energy and ranching industries, and environmental, recreational, historical, archaeological and other interests.

“Generally speaking, when they pass a resolution or pass a letter like this, it carries weight with the agency because we are getting various interests that are agreeing on a particular resolution or position,” Boyd said.

But he said he isn’t sure how the letter will play into the final decision about Vermillion Basin drilling. The Vermillion plan is part of a resource-management proposal for the Little Snake Field Office that was released in mid-August and is in the middle of a 30-day public protest period. Boyd said the council indicated its letter wasn’t intended to be a formal protest.

David Ludlam of the West Slope Colorado Oil & Gas Association praised the council’s letter, saying it “showed top-down Washington decrees have no place in northwestern Colorado, and that seven years of science, seven years of planning and seven years of compromise are worth fighting to preserve.”

The council’s chairman, Patrick Kennedy of Grand Junction, said his concern is over the BLM’s disregard for the local public decision-making process.

“It wasn’t so much the drilling issue for me, personally. It was just the fact that the process was ignored,” he said.

Although the 1 percent drilling proposal emerged as a compromise approach, advisory council member Steve Smith of the Wilderness Society said a community stakeholder process, involving a group called Northwest Colorado Stewardship, actually never reached agreement on how the Vermillion Basin should be managed.

Smith said there is “no need to rush to get into leasing in places that are as remarkable as the Vermillion Basin” while so many surrounding energy resources are undeveloped.

Boyd said the BLM’s revised Vermillion Basin plan comes amid new national Interior Department direction that includes “protecting treasured landscapes and emphasizing oil and gas development in areas that were already leased and being developed.”

He said the idea that the revision was Washington-driven is that of advisory council members. He said the agency also considered the lack of consensus by the Northwest Colorado Stewardship and the opposition to Vermillion Basin drilling expressed by the administration of Gov. Bill Ritter and a majority of public comments.


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