Group fighting drilling project in Whitewater
BLM didn't consider full effects of 108-well plan, complaint says
The organization that has been fighting drilling in the North Fork Valley of the Gunnison has taken aim at a just-approved Whitewater-area drilling project.
Citizens for a Healthy Community and the Western Environmental Law Center filed a request that the Bureau of Land Management’s Colorado state director review the approval of Fram Exploration Co.‘s planned Whitewater oil project.
Mesa County officials hailed approval of the 108-well project when it was approved last month, but Citizens for a Healthy Community moved against it, asking BLM state Director Ruth Welch to review the Grand Junction office approval.
The approval was the result of what Citizens for a Healthy Community called “a faulty process that lacked the required public input and the mandated rigorous analysis of environmental impacts.”
Grand Junction Office head Katie Stevens approved the project after the BLM, Mesa County and Fram reached an agreement on the route that Fram could use to move equipment into and out of the 54,000-acre area in which it plans to drill 108 wells on 12 pads.
The environmental organization’s application for Welch’s review said the Grand Junction office’s “leap-before-you-look attitude is exactly what’s wrong with the federal government’s oil and gas program,” said Jim Ramey, executive director of Citizens for a Healthy Community, which is based in Paonia.
The organization was founded to focus on the Delta County region and the Fram project takes in part of Delta County, meaning that the project falls within its mission, Ramey said.
“We’ve been involved with this for a while now, since it’s potentially such a huge project in the region,” Ramey said.
Fram officials didn’t immediately comment, but Diane Schwenke, president of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, said the project has been thoroughly vetted.
“The fact of the matter is, the BLM has been requesting information from Fram for six years already,” Schwenke said, adding that Citizens for a Healthy Community “evidently does not understand that part of a healthy community is having good-paying jobs.”
The BLM failed to allow for public participation in the process, said Kyle Tisdel, an attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center, which represents Citizens for a Healthy Community.
The effects of the project on air quality, water resources, and wildlife haven’t been fully considered, Tisdel said.
The Mesa County Commission was pleased with the BLM’s approval, said Chairman John Justman.
“It’s not going to ruin the environment and it’s quite obvious that our country needs the oil,” Justman said.
Among the issues Welch, the state director, must consider is whether Citizens for a Healthy Community has standing to ask that the Grand Junction office decision be reconsidered, said Steven Hall, spokesman for the BLM state office.
Welch could uphold, overturn or remand the decision, Hall said, noting that the agency responds as soon as possible to such requests.