No more foot-dragging

To what degree President Donald Trump’s “energy dominance” agenda has accelerated permitting of natural resources extraction on public lands is difficult to pinpoint.

But after nearly a decade of trying to clear regulatory hurdles, SG Interests is a step closer to implementing an energy development plan near Paonia. In singling out the Trump administration for completing an environmental impact statement, SG Interests Vice President Robbie Guinn echoed a common complaint: In an industry where time is money, it simply takes the Bureau of Land Management too long to green-light drilling.

To be fair, there are a lot of moving parts in any BLM decision. The 1970 National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, requires federal agencies to assess environmental effects of any action, including oil and gas exploration, on federal lands before it can issue permits to drill.

In the case of what’s called the Bull Mountain master development plan for leases operated by SG Interests, the BLM began working a preliminary environmental assessment in 2008. In 2012, concerns about air-quality and other impacts led the agency to call for a more involved EIS, the Sentinel’s Dennis Webb reported Friday.

All the while, a Paonia-based group, Citizens for a Healthy Community has opposed the proposal and called for a moratorium on all oil and gas development until the BLM revises its resource management plan for the Uncompahgre Field Office.

The BLM hasn’t analyzed the cumulative effects of development, the group contends. To do so, it must factor in active wells in the area along with the Bull Mountain plan.

Much of the opposition centers on the potential harm to the North Fork Valley’s organic farms, along with the usual concerns: plummeting property values, impacts to the air and water and heavy truck traffic.

The Bull Mountain project could generate up to $100 million in employment income and 470 jobs annually during the drilling phase, the BLM said in a news release. The production phase could generate up to $14 million in employment income, and up to 135 jobs annually.

For a county that’s seen its share of financial hardships in recent years, that’s a sizable contribution to the local economy. But it’s been bottled up for longer than necessary. This despite the fact that SG has been drilling on a small scale in the area without incident.

The BLM’s recent included approval of a permit to drill just one of SG’s 146 proposed wells, but the plan provides a framework for developing the nearly 20,000-acre area, with future drilling applications subject to site-specific review, the BLM said. Because of the amount of environmental analysis that’s already been conducted, SG anticipates individual drilling permit applications to be approved quickly.

If this is a sign for the future, it’s a welcome one. Say what you will about the shortcomings and needless distractions of the Trump administration, but making good on the BLM’s multiple-use mandate by allowing for responsible development in a timely fashion following environmental review isn’t one of them.


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