Groups in new suit assail BLM over study of drilling, air quality

A new lawsuit accuses the Bureau of Land Management of approving at least 34 oil and gas projects covering more than 1,400 wells in Garfield and Mesa counties while failing to analyze the resulting air pollution.

Environmental law firm Earthjustice filed the suit in U.S. District Court in Denver on Monday on behalf of the Wilderness Workshop, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club and the Wilderness Society.

“BLM has violated the National Environmental Policy Act … by turning a blind eye to the air pollution that results from numerous federal oil and gas projects it authorizes,” the groups say in their suit.

They say the BLM improperly has relied on the air pollution analysis it did in 2006 when it approved leasing on the Roan Plateau, using a “cut-and-paste” approach to apply that analysis to other projects that in some cases are more than 10 miles away. That analysis also involved at least 430 fewer wells than have been authorized in the 34 projects, they say.

They also say the agency failed to address the cumulative impacts of projects.

David Ludlam, executive director of the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association, said in a statement, “The plaintiffs using phrases like ‘cut-and-paste’ is ironic. After all, exorbitant amounts of hard-earned tax dollars are frittered away fighting the same ol’ cookie-cutter lawsuits year after year. And in the era of deficits, using those same dollars to help the BLM improve on-the-ground environmental analysis might yield far greater dividends to western Colorado’s environment than lawsuits lining the pockets of those whose livelihood depends on filing them.”

The suit specifically challenges three oil and gas plans — the 284-well North Castle Springs project southeast of Silt, the 45-well Spruce Creek project southwest of Rifle, and the 68-well West Mamm project south of Rifle. It asks that the BLM not be allowed to approve any drilling permits for those projects until it fully evaluates their impacts, “when added to other past, present and reasonably foreseeable future” projects in the region.

The BLM declined to comment because the matter is in litigation.

The suit says oil and gas development is estimated to account for more than 87 percent of all human-caused volatile organic compound emissions in Garfield County, and 72.5 percent of human-caused nitrogen oxide emissions there. Both are contributors to the pollutant ozone.


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