Whitewater drilling plan passes muster

If Fram ever gets the green light to drill up to 108 oil wells over four years from 12 new well pads on public land in the Whitewater Basin, it won’t be because there wasn’t adequate opportunity for the public to weigh in.

The Bureau of Land Management determined in 2014 that the Fram Whitewater Master Development Plan, covering 26,000 acres, would not result in significant impacts to the environment. But the plan had to undergo further environmental review because it didn’t analyze hydraulic fracturing — a practice of using water, sand and chemicals to break up subsurface formations to maximize directional drilling.

So, the BLM invited the public to comment on an amended environmental assessment. Environmental groups, who scored a victory in forcing the amended review, still oppose the plan, saying it poses a potential threat to Grand Junction’s watershed and air quality.

Mesa County commissioners have endorsed the project, noting they’ve addressed transportation, air quality and water quality concerns raised by opponents at every stage since Fram’s development plan was unveiled in 2011. Their support is contingent on assurances that air and groundwater quality will not be adversely impacted.

The city of Grand Junction took no position on the project. But in comments it furnished to the BLM on Monday, it provided details of the conditions it thinks the BLM should impose to ensure the public health, safety and welfare.

The city said it will use all means available in its Watershed Ordinance to assure protection of its water resources. Fram would be required to obtain a city watershed permit before it can perform work within the city’s watershed boundaries. That alone should offer some assurances to detractors.

The city’s comments also specify additional measures Fram should take: It should provide additional detail describing how its fracking program will be designed in the shallow Dakota sandstone “to mitigate fracture propogation to shallow acquifers.”

Fram should also conduct mechanical and formation integrity tests before fracking, conduct baseline water quality monitoring tests beyond the half-mile radius required by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission and install monitoring wells near and downgradient of each well pad proposed as part of a focused hydro-geolgic investigation of groundwater resources. The city also suggests that fracking operations should be witnessed by an independent hyrogeologist for at least two wells.

Without taking a stand, the city has made it clear that water resources deserve the fullest measure of protection. The BLM would be wise to heed the city’s concerns as it ponders final approval, but the fact that city hasn’t opposed the project outright is an indication that’s it’s been thoroughly vetted.


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