Two sides sharply split on forest oil

Conservation groups say the U.S. Forest Service should halt additional oil and gas leasing in the White River National Forest.

According to industry representatives, a proposed oil and gas plan for the forest would virtually do just that.

The Forest Service received sharply contrasting letters from the two sides before last Friday’s deadline for commenting.

The agency earlier this year released a draft study proposing reducing the land available for leasing to 260,308 acres. That’s about 11 percent of the total forest acreage, and would be down from about 417,264 acres available acres currently.

Surface disturbance would be prohibited on more than 200,000 of the available acres, meaning they would have to be reached by directional drilling, and seasonal drilling limits to protect wildlife and/or other surface-use restrictions would apply to virtually all the available acreage.

With the Bureau of Land Management anticipating possibly 25,000 or more new oil and gas wells being drilled on nearby public lands in the next 15 to 20 years, it makes sense to lease no more of the forest over the life of its new plan, according to a letter signed by the Wilderness Workshop, Sierra Club, Colorado Environmental Coalition and other groups.

“Existing opportunities for oil and gas development in the region are sufficient to ensure continued drilling and production, but potential impacts to non-oil and gas related values on the WRNF justify a decision not to lease any more,” they say.

These other values include things such as recreation, grazing, wildlife habitats and local economies, they say.

But the Western Energy Alliance, West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association and Public Lands Advocacy, three industry groups, say in their own joint letter that they object to the “broad closures” in the proposal “because they are designed to limit future oil and natural gas development activity primarily to existing leaseholds.”

In addition to those closures, the proposed restrictions and stipulations on future leases “would impede or prevent development in unleased areas, which is tantamount to closing those areas to leasing,” the industry groups say.

They call the Forest Service proposal “fundamentally flawed” and say it “is clearly designed to make it more difficult or impossible to develop oil and natural gas resources.”

The conservation groups say the Forest Service should implement measures to ensure that even existing leases expire at the end of their primary terms due to significant environmental impacts that would result if the leases are developed.


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