More comment time is welcome on Whitewater-area drilling proposal
Editor’s note: The BLM announced late Tuesday, after this column was written, that it was extending the comment period for this project until Aug. 14.
Today was to be the final day for area residents to comment on the Bureau of Land Management Preliminary Environmental Assessment for drilling the area lying between the Colorado River near Palisade and Kannah Creek. The drilling area would be roughly 15 miles southeast of Grand Junction, east of U.S. Highway 50 and north of Kannah Creek.
If that comes as a surprise, it may be because the BLM released the plan just before the Fourth of July holiday, in the busiest recreational period of the summer. Most locals are probably unaware this potentially dangerous proposal is moving forward so rapidly.
The Daily Sentinel reported, “The BLM received 191 comment letters or e-mails during an initial scoping period. Some expressed support for the project’s economic and energy benefits. Many covered concerns about possible water, air quality, wildlife, recreation and other impacts.”
Water issues revealed in the comments involve possible impacts to the Kannah Creek and Whitewater Creek watersheds, and on drinking water for Grand Junction and Whitewater residents.
The city of Grand Junction has called for numerous mitigations and requirements, based on the municipal watershed protection ordinance that covers the area.
The proposed project area is about 26,000 acres, on which Fram Operating LLC will drill up to 108 wells on 12 pads. All these wells are to be in Mesa County.
The much larger remainder of the Whitewater leases — the entire lease area encompasses 90,000 acres in Mesa and Delta counties — is not in this proposal. An earlier Fram proposal called for 492 wells on land in both counties.
Western Colorado Congress suggests “BLM should get more info from Fram about their future plans for the area, including Delta County” so total effects of drilling can be assessed.
The areas to be drilled are close to the Grand Junction watershed. The city is seeking assurances that the Grand Junction and Palisade watershed protection ordinances will be respected.
Next to water, our most precious resource is clean air to breathe, and a local organization has been formed to help protect it. Citizens for Clean Air “is a Grand Valley organization established to promote improvement in our air quality to benefit health, the environment in general, and our economy.”
Commenting on the draft BLM Grand Junction Area Resource Management Plan released earlier this year, in a lengthy analysis of Grand Junction’s growing air quality problem, the group said, “CCA requests that the BLM re-evaluate its proposed approach to protecting Grand Junction’s air. CCA believes that the BLM needs to consider the Grand Junction urban area as a special situation requiring additional safeguards with regard to oil and gas development in and near the Grand Valley Airshed.”
CCA also registered its concern that “the BLM Adaptive Management Strategy for protecting air quality standards is insufficient to protect the 130,000 people now living in the Grand Valley” from air pollution from the oil and gas industry.
Accordingly, lease stipulations, conditions of approval and permit terms should include technology to reduce emissions that contribute to ozone in the atmosphere, construction of centralized water and gathering facilities for treatment and storage of oil and gas products, enhanced direct inspection and maintenance programs, green well completions and other methods of reducing emissions into the atmosphere and water, the group argues. With issues like these unresolved, little wonder that Western Colorado Congress is asking, “What’s the rush?”
With the BLM preparing to release new safety standards for drilling and fracking on public land, and the Environmental Protection Agency considering new air quality standards for ozone, it seems premature to rush a major new drilling program into the county without benefit of the latest and safest drilling rules.
A good first step would be to reopen the comment period to allow more public participation, with meetings in Grand Junction and Delta.
As the CCA comment letter warns, “Not to require air resource (best management practices) at the start of all future O&G development in and near the Grand Valley Airshed is likely to condemn to failure BLM catch-up, mitigation efforts to protect air quality and public health in the Grand Valley.”