Proposed BLM plan would protect Colorado’s Vermillion Basin | AspenTimes.com

Proposed BLM plan would protect Colorado’s Vermillion Basin

The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

CRAIG, Colo. – A federal proposal for managing land that oil and gas companies have eyed in northwest Colorado would keep energy development off the remote Vermillion Basin.

The Wilderness Society commended the decision. But at least one Moffat County commissioner said it could cost the state jobs and revenues, and The West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association expressed disappointment in the decision.

The Bureau of Land Management in 2007 released a draft plan for about 1.9 million acres of federal minerals managed by the Little Snake Field Office in Moffat, Routt and Rio Blanco counties. That draft suggested opening 77,000 acres of the Vermillion Basin to energy leases, with some restrictions on development.

After receiving public comments, the BLM on Tuesday announced a proposed management plan to protect the basin, prized by conservation groups for its wildlife habitat, sandstone cliffs and petroglyphs. A total of 242,000 acres, including the basin, would be closed to oil and gas leasing under the proposal.

Energy development would still be allowed on most of the other land, but the BLM proposes adding terms to protect sagebrush habitat and other sensitive resources.

The agency plans to release the proposed management plan and open a 30-day protest period on it in late July.

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“This decision by the BLM is commendable, but it’s just one aspect of a much larger management plan expected later in July. We’re hopeful the comprehensive final plan will restore some balance to an area targeted by oil and gas industry for years now,” said Soren Jespersen, northwest Colorado wildlands coordinator at The Wilderness Society.

More than 1 million acres in the mineral-rich area are leased for oil and gas in the Little Snake area, but less than 15 percent of the leases have been developed for oil and gas, the BLM said.

Moffat County Commissioner Tom Mathers said he prefers opening Vermillion Basin to development. He and others are still upset over Gov. Bill Ritter’s declaration in 2007, after taking a helicopter tour of the area, that Vermillion Basin shouldn’t be drilled.

That was in opposition to the BLM’s proposal at the time to allow drilling but limit it to just 1 percent of the land at any on time.

Mathers said the energy industry viewed it as restrictive but “reasonable.”

“Stakeholders spent over half a decade using on-the-ground conditions and science to agree on a restrictive, responsible development plan for the Vermillion Basin. This remarkable Washington re-trade must certainly dishearten those who compromised and worked in good faith for balanced energy policy in Northwest Colorado,” said David Ludlam, executive director of The West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association.

Mathers said allowing drilling on the basin would bring jobs and tax revenue to the state and county. “It’s a lot of dollar signs,” he said.

“There’s only one thing that makes the basin spectacular: It’s never had any drilling leases done on it,” he said. “You can go over the next hill and the next hill and the next hill and it all looks the same.”

In a written statement, BLM Colorado Director Helen Hankins said the proposal presents a balanced approach to oil and gas leasing and development.

“It reflects the common-sense approach of pursuing continued development in areas that are already leased, while protecting areas like the Vermillion that communities enjoy for its backcountry experience and its signature beauty,” she said.

The Wilderness Society contends the Vermillion Basin contains less than 5 percent of technically recoverable natural gas in the Little Snake resource area and about 1 percent of the oil.

The BLM has estimated its management plan addresses 9.9 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

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