Enviro groups sue BLM over gas-lease approvals
June 18, 2011
DENVER – A Carbondale-based organization, along with several other groups, is suing the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, contending that the agency has approved some 1,400 gas wells in Garfield and Mesa counties without properly evaluating potential air pollution from the drilling activity.
The Wilderness Workshop of Carbondale, Natural Resources Defense Council, the Wilderness Society and the Sierra Club filed the lawsuit Monday in U.S. District Court in Denver.
The suit alleges that the BLM has been “turning a blind eye to the air pollution that results from numerous federal oil and gas projects,” which the agency has authorized in the Mamm Creek, North Castle Springs and Spruce Creek areas, all south of Rulison, Parachute and De Beque.
An industry spokesman said the lawsuit is a waste of taxpayer money.
“Exorbitant amounts of hard earned tax dollars are frittered away fighting these same ol’ cookie cutter lawsuits, year after year,” said David Ludlam, executive director of the Western Slope Oil and Gas Association.
Since 2005, according to the lawsuit, the BLM has “adopted a practice of approving oil and gas development in Western Colorado without any analysis of the resulting air pollution.”
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The suit claims the agency has approved “at least 34 oil and gas projects in Garfield and Mesa counties – covering more than 1,400 wells, with associated industrial infrastructure – based on NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) documents that contain no analysis at all of their air pollution impacts.”
The agency, in its approvals of these projects, relied on a NEPA analysis of sites in the Roan Plateau Planning Area, which the suit alleges is “miles away” from the 34 projects that are the subject of the suit.
According to Peter Hart, an attorney with the Wilderness Workshop, “They have to analyze those impacts and disclose them to the public” before approving the projects, rather than “cut-and-paste” data from other, unrelated study areas.
“It’s a big deal,” Hart said. “People are getting sick, and people are concerned.”
He said there have been reports of illness among people living near gas drilling activity in the Piceance Basin gas patch in Garfield, Mesa and Rio Blanco counties, in the Pinedale area in Wyoming, and in the Uinta Basin.
Representatives of the oil and gas industry have firmly maintained there has never been any verifiable proof that gas development makes people sick.
Ludlam said no more studies are needed.
“In the era of deficits, using those same dollars to help the BLM improve on-the-ground environmental analysis would yield far greater dividends to Western Colorado’s environment than lawsuits lining the pockets of those whose livelihood depends on filing them,” he said.
Steven Hall, a public relations official for the BLM, told the Post Independent that his agency does conduct air quality analyses of oil and gas projects.
“We do the best job we can with existing information and existing science,” he said on Friday.
He added that other entities, such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, have greater expertise and responsibility for air quality studies than does the BLM.