White River drilling forecast: big increase

A planning document projects potentially more than 10 times the current number of oil and gas wells on the White River National Forest over the next 15 to 20 years.

The Bureau of Land Management document predicts possibly 903 to 1,004 wells being drilled in the forest, compared to 82 existing wells.

It also forecasts the number of well pads possibly increasing by 169 from 42 now. The amount of disturbed land, now 196 acres, could increase by 1,013 acres for pads, roads, pipelines and other facilities.

The report, called a reasonable foreseeable development document, was assembled by the BLM to help the Forest Service analyze possible impacts as it revises its 1993 plan for where oil and gas development should occur in the White River National Forest. The Forest Service has authority over surface issues on the forest, and the BLM manages the subsurface mineral estate.

The Forest Service released an initial proposal identifying 266,599 acres as available for oil and gas development on the forest. Those lands are on the forest’s west end, roughly from the De Beque to Carbondale areas and east of Meeker.

The Forest Service held an open house on the proposal Wednesday in advance of doing environmental analysis of a range of draft alternatives for oil and gas leasing.

Its initial proposal would protect some areas, including roadless acreage, through what are called no-surface-occupancy rules that would require use of directional drilling. But many of the existing leases for 61,000 roadless acres on the forest aren’t bound by those restrictions, which would only be imposed if the leases expire and new ones are issued.

Dorothea Farris, vice chairwoman of the Thompson Divide Coalition, a group trying to prevent drilling in a region near Carbondale, said one question for her group is to what degree energy companies can negotiate exceptions to no-surface-occupancy rules.

David Francomb, leasable minerals program manager for the White River National Forest, said some leases specifically would prohibit waivers from that rule. While others would allow possible waivers, he said he never has issued one on the White River National Forest.

The Thompson Divide Coalition and area residents such as Dave Tritton and Chris McPeek of New Castle also worry about the possibility of groundwater contamination from hydraulic fracturing during gas development. Francomb said best-management drilling practices and measures to mitigate impacts aren’t addressed at the forest-wide oil and gas planning stage, but later, during site-specific environmental reviews.


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