Rare plants project on hold after appeal by oil and gas industry
A trial project to test the feasibility of transplanting and seeding two threatened plants found only in Rio Blanco County is on hold because of an administrative appeal by the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association.
The organization is worried about the potential impacts of the project on oil and gas leases in the area, about 27 miles southeast of Rangely, and has asked for a decision on the matter by the Interior Board of Land Appeals.
The BLM and Colorado State University want to conduct a project involving the Dudley Bluffs bladderpod and Dudley Bluffs twinpod. Both are wild mustard plants found on barren white oil shale outcrops and are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
The project would make use of transplants grown from seed in greenhouses, and researchers would evaluate things including the effectiveness of using transplants rather than planting seeds — lessons that could guide future projects.
“The ultimate goal of this work would be to provide a means for delisting these threatened species,” Kent Walter, manager of the BLM’s White River Field Office, said in his decision authorizing the project.
That could mean fewer land-use restrictions. In the short term, though, the 12 study areas proposed for the project would result in 15 more acres of restrictions for mineral development over 10 years, growing to 450 acres later if the initial effort succeeds.
West Slope COGA has questioned why the plants involved with the project won’t be designated as nonessential experimental populations. The BLM has responded that officially registering experimental populations can take up to three years, and it was working with the Fish and Wildlife Service to expedite the planning process so the graduate student assigned to the project can quickly complete her research.
West Slope COGA worries about new conditions of approval the BLM would impose on new drilling permits for existing leases in order to provide buffer zones around plants.
“Imagine a neighbor (who) plants some seeds in the middle of your peach farm informing you that from now on irrigating, pruning, fertilizing and harvesting your crop isn’t allowed because an endangered species now grows among your fruit trees. This scenario is what our companies faced and is the basis for our passion to help the BLM redesign the introduction plan,” West Slope COGA executive director David Ludlam said Wednesday.
The BLM says minerals still could be reached through directional drilling.
Ludlam said industry needs “assurance that once these endangered seeds are sown onto our property we can still harvest the energy we own.”