Gas drillers leery of redrawn maps for protection of wildlife
The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission on Tuesday approved updated maps defining areas where special regulations apply for protection of wildlife when drilling is proposed.
The action followed objections from two energy companies worried about how the changes might limit their operations in western Colorado’s Piceance Basin.
The changes reflect new information developed by Colorado Parks and Wildlife since the wildlife rules were adopted as part of sweeping rules revisions approved by the COGCC in 2008.
Statewide, they result in a 10 percent increase, to 24.5 million acres, in what’s defined as sensitive wildlife habitat under the rules, and a 2 percent increase, to 1.95 million acres, in land subject to stricter restricted surface occupancy rules.
However, the changes vary greatly from species to species, ranging from an 82 percent reduction in sensitive wildlife habitat for golden eagle nest sites to a 95 percent jump in bighorn sheep production areas subject to restricted surface occupancy rules.
Increased sheep protections particularly concern Encana USA as they pertain to the Battlement herd, which Parks and Wildlife is seeking to protect east of De Beque.
Jason Oates, who deals in regulatory matters for Encana, told the commission the map changes could cause “an obstacle to development” in those areas.
He said current federal restricted areas to protect sheep there are narrow enough Encana can access them by drilling from outside those areas, but the expanded state protections will make that much harder.
Sensitive wildlife habitat generally requires consultation with Parks and Wildlife to see what protective measures might be required during oil and gas development there. But except in certain circumstances, companies are required to avoid restricted surface occupancy areas to the maximum extent technologically and economically feasible.
Scott Hall, chief executive officer of Black Diamond Minerals, challenged another map change as it pertains to acreage his company has been drilling on in the Beaver Creek drainage south of Rifle. He said areas are labeled as restricted to protect cutthroat trout even though they have little or no water flow.
Parks and Wildlife official Chad Bishop said the reason is that sedimentation problems from drilling in those intermittent tributaries can harm trout downstream.