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Garfield County wants more analysis of BLM oil and gas plan

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – Garfield County commissioners want more analysis of potential socio-economic impacts related to a draft U.S. Bureau of Land Management decision that will guide future oil and gas development on BLM lands in the far northwest part of the county.

The Garfield Board of County Commissioners on Monday agreed to forward a letter to officials with the BLM’s White River Field Office, based in Meeker, requesting that the management plan be reworked to include more current data.

The draft plan for the White River Field Office resource area mostly affects Rio Blanco County, but also covers some parts of Garfield County north of Rifle and northwest of Parachute. Public comments on the plan are due by Jan. 28.

According to Garfield County’s formal comment, the plan as written is based on outdated socio-economic data and air quality information, according to the letter drafted by Garfield County Oil and Gas Liaison Kirby Wynn.

“The economic analysis used for this study was finished at the end of 2008, just when things were changing,” Wynn said during the regular Monday BOCC meeting. Drilling activity has dropped off significantly since then.

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As a result, the population, drilling activity, labor and revenue projections used in the plan are flawed, he said.

“Population and employment estimates and projections … do not account for the episodic nature of energy extraction activities,” the county’s letter states. “Industry employment and associated population increases/decreases are known to fluctuate broadly and cyclically rather than follow a straight line growth trajectory.”

Wynn said the draft management plan suggests that growth in oil and gas activity in the region will continue to increase through 2030.

To the contrary, activity has fallen off significantly over the past four years, and will likely continue to fluctuate in the future, he said.

“At this unrealistic growth projection, impacts including demand for labor, public facilities and services and housing are likely vastly overstated,” the county’s letter continues.

Each of the BLM field offices in Colorado where oil and gas leasing takes place have been reviewing their management plans.

The Colorado River Valley Field Office, based in Silt, recently completed its new management plan as well. Garfield County expressed similar concerns regarding socio-economic impacts in that and other recent federal land management reviews.

“They are projecting no downturn whatsoever,” Commission Chairman John Martin said, adding that technology related to drilling techniques, as well as advances in air and water quality monitoring, are not reflected in the new management plan.

“We need to amplify that there have been changes, and the federal government has not kept up,” Martin said.

The county’s letter also questions whether the rights of existing lease holders are adequately preserved in the new plan.

“Garfield County is very concerned that existing leases be respected, and requests that the BLM clearly express that existing leases and future permits … are exempt” from the new leasing rules, the county’s letter states.

According to the BLM, a majority of the acreage within the White River Field Office area is already leased for oil and gas development. The new plan proposes mitigation measures that could apply to lease holders. These include an incentive-based approach that recognizes valid existing leases while minimizing impacts to wildlife and other sensitive resources.

jstroud@postindependent.com


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