Garfield County presses point in reevaluation of oil and gas leasing policies

Decisions whether to lease federal lands for oil and gas production should equally weigh economic and environmental impacts, an energy economics consultant working with Garfield County says in recent comments to area Bureau of Land Management officials.

County commissioners this week submitted a letter to BLM Upper Colorado District officials in Grand Junction offering comment on some of the alternatives under consideration in a court-ordered review of the Resource Management Plans (RMPs) for the BLM’s Colorado River Valley and Grand Junction field offices.

Among them is a preliminary alternative that could ultimately close up to 80% of area BLM lands to future leasing, based on 2012 production potential estimates.

The RMPs were approved in 2015 with significant input from Garfield County. In them, lands determined 10 years ago to have low, medium or unknown oil and gas production potential could be closed to leasing.

But much has changed in that time, commissioners said in their comments, which are part of the court-ordered Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) revisions for the two field offices.

“There have been significant advances in the understanding of the area geology as well as the technologies available to produce Piceance Basin oil and gas since 2012, to the degree we question the validity of using what may be outdated and erroneous production potential ratings without at least some reevaluation of more up-to-date information,” the county says in its written comments.

Potentially closing off 80%, or even 50% of the area BLM lands to future leasing “would represent a significant loss to Garfield County, and our economy,” Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said during the Monday Board of County Commissioners meeting when the letter was ratified on a 3-0 vote.

The ongoing BLM SEIS for oil and gas leasing is slated to be the main top of discussion at Thursday’s monthly Garfield County Energy Advisory Board meeting in Rifle, at 6 p.m. at the Garfield County Rifle Administration Building, 195 W. 14th St., second floor.

Larry Sandoval, field manager for the BLM’s Colorado River Valley Field Office, has been invited to discuss the ongoing court-ordered reevaluation of lands allocated as open or closed to oil and gas leasing.

The court orders also mandate that leasing decisions include an analysis of post-production greenhouse gas emissions that could result from combustion of fluid minerals extracted from federal lands.

Commissioners, in their comments to the BLM, said there’s a bigger picture that needs to be given equal weight.

“We believe a component of that analysis should include careful evaluation of the importance of natural gas production as a fuel for power generation and heating purposes, as well as to support development of the wide range of natural-gas-derived products that are critically needed to support general quality of life and the local and national economy,” the county writes.

Commissioners refer to a recent study done on behalf of the county by University of Wyoming energy economist Tim Considine outlining economic losses in Garfield County totaling hundreds of millions of dollars related to new oil and gas regulations from the state and federal government. 

Considine was also asked to provide his own comments related to six areas under review in the SEIS and the potential adverse economic impacts on Garfield and neighboring gas-producing counties.

“Producing oil and gas from federal lands involves striking a balance between environmental quality and economic development,” Considine writes in his comments summary. “The single most important challenge for BLM in complying with this order is to recognize that if leasing is restricted in western Colorado, prices will increase and production will shift to other regions.”

Because Colorado has some of the more stringent air quality standards and other new regulations around oil and gas activity, that shift could end up having greater environmental impacts, Considine also surmised.

“An economic impact analysis of more restrictive leasing policies should be conducted to identify their costs in terms of lost employment, income and tax revenues,” he wrote.

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