By: Vail Daily – Eagle County isn’t the top place in Colorado considered suitable for oil and gas development, but a 2015 Bureau of Land Management plan identified areas surrounding the Eagle River as having medium-level potential for energy extraction.
While most of Eagle County was identified as having low potential for oil and gas leasing, 16 percent of the BLM lands along the Eagle River were considered to have medium-level potential, along with a swath of land from Wolcott to Burns including lands along the Colorado River.
The BLM, in its 2015 resource management plan, had proposed a series of four alternatives in allocating lands as open or closed for oil and gas leasing. None of the alternatives were acceptable to local environmental groups, who argued that the planning area contains some of the state’s most important wildlife habitat, recreation areas, Indigenous cultural sites, critical water resources, and wildlands that should be protected for future generations.
Subsequent lawsuits from Wilderness Workshop and the Center for Biological Diversity resulted in the BLM preparing two more alternatives in a draft supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, released Aug. 3.
Both of the new plans, identified as alternatives E and F, close off Eagle County to oil and gas development, as all sites identified to have low and medium-level potential were removed from the future leasing areas being contemplated.
“The community-driven alternatives in the draft plan offer a chance for the Biden administration to begin restoring balance to our public lands by offering a path to protect these on-the-ground values, and acknowledge that oil and gas development is a major driver of climate change — which is already impacting our communities, agriculture, water, wildlife, and way of life,” said Will Roush, the executive director of Wilderness Workshop.
In the BLM’s four original plans — identified as alternatives A, B, C, and D — only alternative C proposed closing off oil and gas development in BLM-identified areas of critical environmental concern. Both of the new alternatives, E and F, incorporate that aspect of alternative C.
Alternative F would expand the Castle Peak wilderness study area in Eagle County by 3,900 acres, and would also create new areas of critical environmental concern in Eagle County at Dotsero Crater, the Colorado River Seeps and the greater sage-grouse habitat area south of the Colorado River from Pisgah Mountain to State Bridge.
Eagle County Commissioner Kathy-Chandler Henry was one of the first officials to speak out in appreciation of the new plans. She was quoted in a release issued by Wilderness Workshop on Thursday, identifying one of the hard-to-answer questions about BLM land in Eagle County — just how much is there?
“About a quarter million acres in Eagle County are managed by the BLM,” Chandler Henry said. “Like the rest of Colorado, where only 16% of BLM’s 8.3 million acres are durably protected, most of those Eagle County lands are not permanently conserved. We appreciate that the draft SEIS proposes thoughtful limits on oil and gas leasing, and allows for the use of conservation tools such as Areas of Critical Environmental Concern (ACECs), Wilderness Study Areas, and other measures to protect BLM lands. These public lands protect our wildlife, contribute to our world-class outdoor recreation experiences and help ensure our local economy thrives.”
‘The changing economy of Western Colorado’
Neighboring Garfield County is among the areas most affected by the new alternatives. While Garfield is one of the nation’s top 25 natural gas-producing counties, since 2003 federal lands have accounted for only 30% to 40% of the region’s total natural gas production and 20% to 40% of the region’s total oil production, a recent study from the Conservation Economics Institute notes.
Wilderness Workshop said the Aug. 3 draft environmental impact statement aligns with “the changing economy of Western Colorado which is less and less dependent on fossil fuel extraction,” citing the institute’s report.
“The region is already successfully undergoing an economic transition away from the oil and gas industry and is well poised to continue on that trajectory,” the Wilderness Workshop release noted, citing the institute’s report. “Outdoor recreation and amenity development play significant roles in Mesa and Garfield counties’ economies. Garfield County is 62% and Mesa County is 73% public lands, which attracts visitors, but also entrepreneurs, retirees and businesses wishing to permanently relocate to the region.”
Lands identified for potential oil and gas extraction under the BLM’s 2015 resource management plan.
Courtesy imageWhile Wilderness Workshop’s legislation spurred the BLM to create the draft supplemental Environmental Impact Statement and its new management plan alternatives (E and F), the BLM can still decide to pursue one of its original plan alternatives, A through D.
Currently, the BLM has identified Alternative E as the agency’s preferred alternative. Wilderness Workshop prefers Alternative F.
Comments accepted through Nov. 1
The BLM is currently taking public comment on the issue through Nov. 1.
“The BLM is particularly interested in feedback concerning the adequacy and accuracy of the new management alternatives and the analysis of environmental consequences,” the agency said in a statement.
The draft supplemental Environmental Impact Statement can be read by visiting eplanning.blm.gov.
You may submit comments electronically on the project website: go.usa.gov/xtrgf; or you can mail or hand deliver comments to BLM Upper Colorado River District, Attn: Supplemental EIS, 2518 H Road, Grand Junction, CO, 81506.
To facilitate analysis of comments and information submitted, the BLM strongly encourages you to submit comments in an electronic format.