BLM rules today on gas drilling road in elk habitat |

BLM rules today on gas drilling road in elk habitat

Lynn BurtonStaff Writer

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management is still considering whether to let natural gas drilling rigs rumble through critical elk habitat south of Rifle this winter.EnCana Oil & Gas has asked BLM to open an access road to Grass Mesa, which BLM has slated for closure from Dec. 1 to April 30, said BLM spokesman Steve Bennett.Bennett said he expects to release the BLM’s decision today.BLM officials consulted with Colorado Division of Wildlife’s Grand Junction office about EnCana’s request. “They didn’t want to take a formal position,” Bennett said.Division staffers could not be reached for comment.EnCana built the $500,000 road in November as part of a settlement with the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission, after the company blocked the only other road to Grass Mesa one day earlier this year.The only other access to the area is along a private subdivision road, which EnCana has a legal right to use. But subdivision homeowners don’t want heavy construction equipment on their road.Bennett said EnCana wants to bring three rigs to Grass Mesa and drill 17 wells this winter.A study commissioned by EnCana and the BLM, conducted by Buys & Associates of Englewood, said impacts to mule deer and elk could be mitigated with the following measures, which the firm said EnCana has agreed to:-EnCana will hold pre-construction meetings with all drilling related personnel to explain the mitigation measures.-Speed limits will be posted.-De-icing salt on roads can attract deer and elk, the study said, so snow will be cleared by blades and plows instead.-“Jake brakes” will be prohibited to minimize noise from traffic.-Vehicles will not be allowed to use the road from 4 a.m. to 8 a.m., and from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., which are peak mule deer and elk activity hours, the study said.The Canadian based EnCana has been exploring for natural gas and developing wells on Grass Mesa, located about three miles southwest of the Rifle Airport, for two years. The 40 to 50 Grass Mesa subdivision homes sit on 35-acre lots.Homeowners have clashed with EnCana off and on for two years. As a Grass Mesa property owner, EnCana has a right to use the private road to the subdivision.

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