Forest officials brace for surge in drilling permits
An expected surge in new gas drilling applications in the White River National Forest is forcing Supervisor Maribeth Gustafson to try to ramp up staffing. Gustafson on Tuesday told Pitkin County commissioners she is working with the Bureau of Land Management to prepare for the increase expected from peaking natural gas activity and increased federal incentives to drill. “There’s no way we’ll be able to keep up with it and keep up with your expectations for caring for the land,” Gustafson said. Commissioner Jack Hatfield said the effort seems like an attempt to speed up the process and reduce review, and he asked if the forest management can handle the onslaught.”I don’t believe we’ll be able to say ‘stop,'” Gustafson said. National forest staff has to review drilling permits for impacts on everything from wildlife habitat to roads and recreation. The staff also must monitor companies to make sure they are meeting conditions placed on drilling. Recreational permit-holders such as the Aspen Skiing Co. pay for their impact statements, while Congress has not authorized national forests to charge oil and gas companies for their impact statements, threatening to drown underfunded agencies in large numbers of permits. The White River National Forest, with 2.3 million acres, has more recreational use than any other national forest in the country, largely because of the 11 ski areas in it. Most of the drilling activity in the White River National Forest is near Rifle, though there is some interest in areas south of Carbondale.Joel Stonington’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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