Predictably, the reaction to the Bureau of Land Management’s plan for governing activities on millions of acres of land in northwestern Colorado varies sharply, depending on who you ask. Representativces of the oil and gas industry say it places way too much land off limits for energy development; while environmentalists lament the amount being made available for oil and gas exploration.
The BLM plan governs all activities on 1.1 million acres of public land and 1.3 million acres of private land where the BLM controls mineral rights across the counties of Moffat, Rio Blanco and Routt.
Conservationists say that opening up 90 percent of the Little Snake Area to drilling while setting limits on other scenic areas in northwestern Colorado isn’t the right choice.Soren Jespersen, spokesman for The Wilderness Society in Craig, Colo., told the Denver Post that said the Bureau of Land Management plan announced Monday covers oil-and-gas exploration and other uses across 2.3 million acres of northwestern Colorado.
Restrictions will cover the picturesque Vermillion Basin canyon lands, sage grouse breeding areas and a 22-mile stretch of the Yampa River that may qualify for a wild and scenic ban.
“While we are pleased to see Vermillion Basin protected, we are dismayed that the plan still opens around 90 percent of the resource area to oil and gas drilling, leaving 10 percent for the myriad other uses of these amazing lands,” Sorensen said.
Quite naturally, the BLM sees it differently than critics on either side of the issue. Spokesperson Steven Hall said the agency will never get agreement on the best way to manage public lands.
“This tries to get at the right balance between allowing responsible oil-and-gas development and protecting wildlife habitat,” Hall told the Post.
The plan stipulates that drilling will be prohibited within roughly a half mile of sage grouse breeding areas, and would not be allowed at certain times of the year on more than 1 million acres of prime wildlife habitat.
Environmental leaders like Jespersen acknowledge that the final plan is an improvement, but that it doesn’t go far enough to protect natural resources because the bar was set so low from previous proposals from the federal agency.
Moffat County Commissioner Tom Gray was quoted in the Grand Junction Daily Sentinelthat he was disappointed with the plan because he believes it doesn’t go far enough. Gray said oil and gas development needs to occur “where you find it,” and that includes the Vermillion Basin.