Environmentalists call EnCana drilling plan review incomplete
Environmentalists are taking issue with the Bureau of Land Management’s finding that a plan to drill more than 300 wells on the border of Garfield and Rio Blanco counties will create no significant environmental impact.The Colorado Environmental Coalition and Colorado Wilderness Network say the BLM should have conducted more environmental study on a geographic area plan EnCana Oil & Gas submitted for the Piceance Basin’s Figure Four federal unit, an area whose outline roughly resembles the numeral 4.The land totals 17,385 acres, and is southwest of Meeker and northwest of Parachute. About half of the property is in each county.The BLM last week announced its approval of the plan, which could result in EnCana drilling 327 wells from 120 pads over the next three to four years. The plan allows long-term disturbance of 480 acres, and includes 33 miles of new roads. It would result in about 71 miles of pipelines being built. The BLM conducted an environmental assessment and approved the plan with a list of conditions aimed at minimizing environmental impacts. It ordered the relocation of 20 proposed well pad locations, and/or their corresponding access locations, to reduce environmental impacts.The agency also determined that, due to the mitigation measures it is requiring, a more detailed environmental impact statement on the drilling plan isn’t required.In a prepared statement, environmentalists said they don’t oppose the drilling, but want to make sure it adheres to federal environmental laws.”The BLM is saying that hundreds of new wells and miles of roads do not create a significant disturbance to the landscape, wildlife migration routes and habitat, and other public resources. We think it will,” said Pete Kolbenschlag, Western Slope field director with the Colorado Environmental Coalition. “There are a few good steps taken by the BLM in planning for this project, but overall the analysis and proposed mitigations are insufficient.”Environmentalists said the drilling plan includes positive aspects, including some clustering of wells and directional drilling, which involves drilling multiple wells from the same well pad. But they say gas development of the scale being planned deserves heightened attention from the agency.”The BLM really needs to better consider what impacts its decisions are having on western Colorado, on our wildlife, landscapes, recreation and the quality of our water and air,” Kolbenschlag said.BLM spokesman Steven Hall said he thinks that if members of the general public look at the environmental assessment on the drilling plan, they would conclude the agency took a long and thoughtful look at it.”Anybody who has not had the joy of reading an environmental assessment completed by the BLM – it would be hard to fault us for not analyzing something enough,” he said.Hall added that the drilling plan is in keeping with the resource management plan for the White River Field Area of the BLM, and an environmental impact statement was conducted in creating that plan.In addition, more environmental review occurs when applications to drill are filed, he said.”There’s a great deal of environmental analysis in any type of oil and gas development,” he said.The BLM will allow for appeals of decisions made in the Figure 4 drilling plan when it approves drilling permit applications.Hall said the drilling plan also can be appealed to the state BLM director, and the director’s decision can be appealed to the Interior Board of Land Appeals.Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext. email@example.com
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