Park Service seeks details on impacts of BLM leasing
The National Park Service has weighed in on a proposal to offer more than 100,000 northwest Colorado acres in an oil and gas lease sale next May, seeking answers about potential impacts to Rocky Mountain National Park and Dinosaur National Monument.
The Bureau of Land Management last week carried forward in a draft document a proposal to lease the acreage, including land west of Rocky Mountain National Park in Grand County.
The agency released a preliminary environmental assessment that includes a preferred alternative to offer 27,529 acres in Grand County, 9,155 acres in Jackson County, 1,928 acres in Moffat County, 45,159 acres in Rio Blanco County and 16,885 acres in Routt County. A considerable amount of the Rio Blanco County acreage is north of Rangely, with numerous scattered parcels also being offered in the Piceance Basin highlands southeast of Rangely.
The Park Service has written the BLM to raise concerns about possible air-quality, visual and noise impacts to Dinosaur National Monument and Rocky Mountain National Park, and the threat of light pollution to their dark skies.
The BLM responds to Park Service and other commenters’ concerns in its EA, which can be found at http://on.doi.gov/2fAHITp. A public comment period on the environmental assessment is scheduled to end Dec. 12.
The Grand County acreage is just west of Granby, the western portal to Rocky Mountain National Park. The BLM’s leasing proposal in what’s known as Middle Park already has elicited concern from Grand County and the communities of Granby and Hot Sulphur Springs. They’re worried about impacts to the environment, including water and wildlife, and to the area’s tourism and ranching economies. The county doesn’t have any producing oil and gas wells but has previously experienced exploratory drilling.
The BLM received 119 comments on the May lease sale in an initial public comment period that ended in September, before also receiving the Park Service letters and more than 6,000 emailed comments based on a form letter from the group WildEarth Guardians. The form letter voiced concerns about leasing public lands near Rocky Mountain National Park and the Colorado River, as well as other concerns, such as impacts on air, water, wildlife, treasured landscapes and the climate.
The BLM says many commenters called for canceling or halting the lease sale. It points in its EA to laws authorizing it to conduct such leasing and requiring it to hold lease sales.
“Whether to halt all oil and gas lease sales is beyond the scope of the decision for which this EA has been prepared,” it said.
Some commenters also asked that leasing of some parcels be deferred to address wildlife, recreation, visual and other concerns.
“The BLM has reviewed this request and has determined it is not necessary to consider deferral of leasing of these parcels because the identified resources are not known to be present in those areas … or are adequately protected by existing lease stipulations,” the agency said in its EA.
The parcels in the planned lease sale include acreage as close as 4.5 miles from Dinosaur National Monument and 6.5 miles from Rocky Mountain National Park.
“Given the proximity of the proposed North Park leasing area to the park, we are concerned about the potential impacts to park resources and values that could occur as a consequence of any future development,” Rocky Mountain National Park Superintendent Darla Sidles wrote to the BLM.
The park last year became the third most visited national park in the country, with more than 4.1 million visitors who spent an estimated $268.4 million in nearby communities, she said in her letter.
“The park is a Class I airshed, the highest level of air quality protection under the Clean Air Act,” she wrote.
The park already is dealing with a significant nitrogen air-pollution problem that affects high-elevation lakes, plants and wildlife. Sidles wrote that ozone and visibility are also concerns in the park, and she’s worried that oil and gas operations could aggravate such issues.
Dinosaur is a Class II airshed.
“Pristine air quality and nearly limitless views are an integral part of the visitor experience at (the monument) and are a necessary part of maintaining our viewshed and dark night skies,” the monument’s superintendent, Mark Foust, wrote to the BLM.
He pointed to oil and gas pollution issues related to oil and gas development in the Uinta Basin in northeastern Utah and western Rio Blanco County — issues that have included high wintertime ozone levels. Air pollutants can harm visibility, ecosystems and human health in the monument, Foust wrote.
He called for the BLM to consult with the Park Service on air-pollution mitigation measures, and also for it to take actions such as minimizing light pollution that harms wildlife and wildlife habitat, and the ability of park visitors to view celestial objects. Infrastructure should be painted to match the landscape or hidden behind landscape features to minimize visual impacts, and efforts should be made to reduce truck and other noise impacts, he wrote.
The BLM says in its environmental assessment that looking ahead to the year 2021, “the air quality impact contributions associated with all projected federal oil and gas development for each of the (BLM) field offices where proposed lease parcels are located are expected to be minimal, and it is reasonable to conclude that project or lease-level … development would have even lower contributions to the overall cumulative air quality.”
It says no proposed lease parcels would be visible from Rocky Mountain National Park’s Alpine Visitor Center. Some parcels would be visible from another key observation point, the Shadow Mountain Lookout Tower, but parts of some of the parcels have lease stipulations that help to restrict visual impacts, and areas without these stipulations could have measures put in place when well permits are approved, the BLM says.
A new BLM master leasing plan south of Dinosaur National Monument addresses measures to reduce visual and sound impacts.