Environmental organizations file lawsuit | PostIndependent.com

Environmental organizations file lawsuit

Phillip Yates
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado ” Two environmental organizations have launched a lawsuit against the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service over a drilling plan in the White River National Forest. The groups contend the plan and other drilling projects are degrading air quality in the area, court records show.

Carbondale-based Wilderness Workshop and the Natural Resources Defense Council filed their federal lawsuit against the two federal agencies on Oct. 31. That occurred about a month after the Bureau of Land Management issued drilling permits for the Hell’s Gulch North Phase 2 project ” an action the two groups had opposed.

In early May, the Forest Service issued a finding of no significant impact on a drilling plan for the Hells Gulch project. That plan would allow Plains Exploration and Production Company to drill up to 45 natural gas wells, along with related infrastructure, on White River National Forest lands about 14.5 miles south of Silt.

The NRDC and the Wilderness Workshop filed an administrative appeal of the decision about a month later. That was rejected and the government issued drilling permits for the area in early September, court records show.

The groups are seeking to have the Hell’s Gulch drilling plan set aside and vacated.

They argue that BLM and the Forest Service violated federal environmental law by failing to complete the “necessary” planning to protect the natural resources in the area.

They also allege that the federal agencies failed to analyze the cumulative impacts of the Hell’s Gulch North Phase 2 and other ongoing drilling projects in the area.

Additionally, the environmental organizations say the BLM and the Forest Service also failed to take adequate steps to ensure compliance with federal clean air standards.

The groups say in court papers that the existing scope of oil and gas drilling has exceeded levels outlined in a resource management plan for the area “which is undergoing a revision but not yet completed. However, both the BLM and the Forest Service are issuing new leases and approving more oil and gas projects, the groups allege.

“As a result of rapidly expanding oil and gas exploration, air pollution in the communities of the Western Slope has dramatically worsened,” the groups say in their complaint. “Monitoring of air quality in the area, such as in nearby Garfield County, has documented high levels of ozone.

“Health officials have become increasingly concerned about the harmful effects of the drilling rigs, compressor stations, dehydrators and diesel trucks that accompany oil and gas drilling. In addition, the pristine air of the wilderness and ski areas in the nearby mountains has rapidly deteriorated.”

The federal government has not yet responded to the groups’ allegations, court records show.

David Boyd, a spokesman for the BLM, said the agency doesn’t comment on ongoing litigation.

Peter Hart, conservation analyst and staff attorney for the Wilderness Workshop, said area residents are already starting to see a degradation of air quality, and that the group thinks it is attributable to oil and gas development.

“We see high levels of ozone in Garfield County,” Hart said. “We got monitoring data that shows visibility impairment in the White River National Forest’s wilderness areas.

“It is clear by approving these projects in a piecemeal fashion (the BLM and the Forest Service) haven’t done the adequate cumulative impact analysis that they have to do,” he said. “They don’t really have a grip on the air quality impacts that are already occurring as well as those that are going to occur.”

Contact Phillip Yates: 384-9117


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