Drilling industry, environmentalists hope new staffers help BLM office
Bureau of Land Management officials hope 16 new staff members in the agency’s Glenwood Springs Field Office will improve how it processes permit applications for energy development on federal land. The Glenwood Springs Field Office is one of seven such offices that will receive extra staff under the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which allows land agencies to assemble under one roof teams of scientists and engineers from a variety of federal agencies to examine how they can more effectively permit oil and gas drilling while maintaining environmental protection. Glenwood BLM Field Manager Jamie Connell said her office’s workload processing oil and gas permit applications – including leases and permits for drilling, pipelines and compressor stations – is 10 times greater than five years ago. The office processed 300 oil and gas permits in the 2005 fiscal year and is expecting a 25 percent increase for 2006. The team will take some of the workload off the current staff and allow the agency to expedite the permitting process and more meticulously assess the environmental impact of energy development, Connell said. New staff will be from the BLM, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Forest Service and the Army Corps of Engineers. It will include petroleum engineers, biologists, archaeologists, a hydrologist and others, Connell said. The positions are expected to be filled by March.Currently, if BLM officials need to consult with someone from the Fish and Wildlife Service, they have to drive to Grand Junction to meet. “By having them in the building, they can participate at the table from the beginning,” Connell said. “From a resource protection perspective, that’s one of the best parts of the initiative.”EnCana, one of the largest natural gas producers in Garfield County, applauded the federal agencies’ team effort Wednesday. “Given the level of activity in the Piceance Basin, there has been a need for more staff, and we’re pleased that this happened and feel that it will move the process forward,” said EnCana spokesman Doug Hock. “If having more resources helps them to do their job better, we think that’s a good thing.”Garfield County Commissioner Larry McCown said he supports the new staffing efforts “wholeheartedly.” New staff, he said, will give the BLM the ability to adequately inspect “what’s taking place on the ground. That’s always positive,” he said. County Commissioner John Martin said he lobbied for three years to get federal land agencies to cooperate. “I think it’ll be fantastic,” he said. “I think it’s a great step forward.”The Colorado Environmental Coalition, however, is hopeful that the environmental assessment of oil and gas leases and drilling permits will not become weak with the push for more energy development on the Western Slope. “If in the hiring of new staff what they’re doing is providing the checks and balances [required under federal law], then that’s great,” said Corrie Bonnar, the coalition’s Western Slope field director. There’s such a push for more oil and gas development in Colorado that more staff could end up speeding up the permitting process, she said, adding that with so many permit applications to process, BLM officials have sacrificed environmental checks and balances. “By adding the new staff and putting the emphasis on the permitting process, we’re hopeful that the loophole will be closed,” Bonnar said.
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Colorado’s Western Slope is considered a climate hot spot where temperatures are increasing faster than the global average. This warming has contributed to more than 20 years of dryness, which scientists are calling a megadrought.