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May 15, 2013
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Gas industry lobbies for land

The oil-and-gas industry is claiming that closures of land and increased regulations contemplated in the White River National Forest will make drilling “uncompetitive.”

Five organizations affiliated with the gas industry submitted comments last winter to the Forest Service as part of the agency’s effort to rewrite rules of where drilling will be allowed and under what circumstances. The federal agency is overhauling an outdated plan from 1993.

Conservation groups have waged a well-documented effort to restrict drilling. The gas-industry groups have been less vocal. The comments they submitted to the Forest Service were obtained Tuesday by The Aspen times.

Three oil-industry trade groups contend that the Forest Service’s analysis is skewed toward restricting oil and gas development. The draft Environmental Impact Statement looks at four alternatives. One will be selected — possibly a hybrid of the options or even a new one — and it will guide natural gas activity for decades.

“There is no alternative that allows for reasonable oil and natural gas development to take place in the White River National Forest and the only difference among the alternatives is the level of restrictions imposed on development,” said comments submitted by the Western Energy Alliance, of Denver; Public Land Advocacy, of Aurora; and Western Slope Oil and Gas Association, of Grand Junction.

The three organizations asked the Forest Service to include an alternative that “provides for the proper balance between responsible oil and natural gas development and resource conservation” in the 2.27-million-acre White River National Forest.

The proposed action by the Forest Service is to legally close oil and gas leasing on 800,555 acres of the White River National Forest and close another 1,215,777 acres through management direction. That leaves 260,308 acres open for leasing.

The Forest Service’s oil- and gas-leasing plan could affect the management of public lands in the Thompson Divide area, where conservationists and oil companies are battling over drilling. The agency is considering restrictions on the facilities and infrastructure that can be built on the surface.

The oil-and-gas-industry trade groups objected to the amount of land in the White River National Forest that would be placed off limits to drilling by the proposed plan. They claimed that additional restrictions on activity on the lands available for leasing threaten to make energy development impractical.

The trade groups contend that the Forest Service’s closures and increased regulation will increase costs and make assets in the Piceance Basin “uncompetitive” in the oil-and-gas industry. Companies already operating in the forest won’t have incentive to expand existing fields. No data was presented to back those claims, though the groups noted that many companies already have invested in infrastructure in the White River National Forest that could become underutilized.

“By closing vast areas to new leasing, either through outright closures or closures through management directives, the (draft environmental impact statement) would compromise many of these investments and may force operators to let leases expire without the opportunity for reissuance unless they accept far more stringent operating restrictions on those leases,” the trade groups contend. “As a result, this management strategy could ultimately compromise or violate existing lease rights.”

The gas industry groups claimed that gas development should be allowed to continue as projected in the 1993 oil and gas plan. “At a time when the American public is becoming increasingly concerned about the amount of energy it imports, further oil and natural gas development in Colorado could continue to help reduce our reliance on foreign imports,” their comments to the Forest Service said.

Two gas producers, Noble Energy and SG Interests, also submitted comments for the Forest Service planning effort.

The Forest Service received 665 total responses to its gas-and-oil plan. The agency determined that 555 were “organized campaign responses” with comments often submitted as form letters. There were 110 original responses.

The vast majority of the responses are from individuals, organizations or local governments that support greater restrictions on gas drilling.

The Forest Service isn’t scheduled to release a final environmental impact statement on its oil and gas plan until next year, at the earliest.

scondon@aspentimes.com


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The Aspen Times Updated May 15, 2013 04:30AM Published May 15, 2013 04:30AM Copyright 2013 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.