Natural gas activist training seeks balance between interests
CARBONDALE – The natural gas industry gives Garfield County residents access to many modern-day conveniences including heating and electricity.There’s no denying the usefulness of natural gas – more than 70 percent of U.S. residents use natural gas to heat their homes, according to the 2003 Census Bureau – but concerned residents want to find ways for oil companies to produce natural gas while respecting the environment.That was evident Saturday morning as a group of people from around Colorado attended a gas activist training in Carbondale to learn how to force oil and gas companies to comply with environmental standards.”We’re not saying that there shouldn’t be any drilling,” said Clare Bastable, a member of the Colorado Mountain Club. “We just want it to be done more respectfully.”Citizens have three chances to influence how and where oil drilling is done, said Pete Kolbenschlag, with the Colorado Environmental Coalition.Before drilling leases are even considered, citizens have a chance to help the Bureau of Land Management develop or amend land use plans.Land use and management plans dictate how each piece of land will be used, Kolbenschlag said. At this stage, after assessing the land, its natural resources and the environmental impact of drilling, citizens and environmental groups can suggest alternatives to land use plans. For example, if an oil company wants to build a road in an area protected by the 2001 Roadless initiative – which prohibits new road construction in most inventoried, roadless area in the National Forest System – citizens can suggest the oil company build from an existing road.Citizens should also challenge the assumption that the land looks the same as it did when the management plan was developed, Kolbenschlag said.In many cases, the condition of the land and the environmental impact drilling will have on the land changes between the time the BLM creates a management plan and the time an oil company leases the land, Kolbenschlag said.”Citizens have great information about new information,” Kolbenschlag said.Citizens can bring this to the BLM’s attention, which might force the oil company to do an environmental impact assessment or the BLM to deny the lease. Citizens can also look out for the land by paying attention to pending leases. All gas leases oil companies obtain from the BLM must be posted on the BLM Web site 45 days before the sale, Kolbenschlag said.During this period, concerned citizens should write letters to the BLM and Forest Service stating dissatisfaction at having the land used for production. This is a good time to look at alternative means to produce the oil, Kolbenschlag said.The most difficult stage to make an impact on production is after a company obtains the lease and is applying for a permit to drill.To get a permit, the company must provide the BLM with a detailed drilling plan and surface use plan. The BLM is required to give the public 30 days’ notice before the permit is passed. This is the last chance for citizens to voice their opinions about land use.”We can’t do this for every piece of land, so I encourage you to adopt a lease and be the watchdog over that area,” Bastable said.Contact Ivy Vogel: 945-8515, ext. firstname.lastname@example.org
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Visual Journalist Chelsea Self can be reached at 970-384-9108 or email@example.com