Plan Draws Friends and Foes

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3min 30sec

Link to the BLM plan: Click Here

With Colorado Public Radio, I’m Mike Lamp. The future of development on the Western Slope has pitted familiar foes against each other -- environmentalists versus the oil and gas industry. This battle is over a plan that will govern the use of half a million federal acres in the Colorado River Valley. Environmentalists praise it’s restrictions on industry, but oil and gas producers say it will only kill jobs -- in an area that needs them badly. Colorado Public Radio’s Ben Markus has more.

Reporter Ben Markus: It’s called a Resource Management Plan -- and they’re drawn up in federal land offices all over the country. But Kathleen Sgamma, with the oil and gas industry group Western Energy Alliance, says this one’s different.

Kathleen Sgamma: It’s pretty unprecedented compared to most plans on the restrictions that it puts on oil and gas development.

Reporter: For example, she says the air quality restrictions in the plan aren’t supported by science. And requirements for things like clean-burning compressor engines are too burdensome.

Sgamma: It will cause producers to go and take their investment to other areas of the country or the state.

Peter Hart: Yeah, industry cries foul anytime anybody asks them to do anything.

Reporter: That’s Peter Hart, a staff attorney for the environmental group Wilderness Workshop, based in Carbondale. He says that towns in the Piceance Basin are choking on increasingly dirty air and are close to violating the Clean Air Act.

Hart: The amount of oil gas development, projected in the next 20 years is only going to add to that problem. So BLM’s basically trying to head off a train wreck here by implementing some of these best management practices.

Reporter: What the Bureau of Land Management’s final plan will actually look like won’t be known for a long time.

David Boyd: I’m David Boyd, CUT breath and I’m the public affairs specialist for the BLM in Northwestern Colorado.

Reporter: Boyd says the draft plan that’s up for public comment now is far from being finished and both sides shouldn’t rush to judgment on it yet.

Boyd: It’s a very complex document, very important decisions, it takes a long time to write these.

Reporter: Made even longer, because the deadline to comment has been pushed back twice now at the request of Governor John Hickenlooper and other prominent politicians … who partly agree with industry that it could be too restrictive on oil and gas development.

Politicians on the Western Slope have taken it a step further -- railing against BLM’s plan as a job killer. Craig Meis is a Mesa County Commissioner. He says these proposed restrictions will hurt a struggling economy.

Craig Meis: We’re hovering around 10% unemployment, without question those jobs are, as is any jobs for that matter, at this point in time are very important.

Reporter: Having worked in the oil and gas industry, Meis has no doubt that companies will actually pick up and move their operations to areas with less restrictions -- places like North Dakota.

Meis: That’s certainly business 101, you’re gonna go where you get the best bang for the buck. If you can get a better return on your investment in another place you’re gonna go there.

Reporter: He says Mesa County Commissioners have written a letter to the BLM urging it to rethink the plan.

Wednesday is the deadline to submit public comments on the draft.

[Photo: Anna Panoka]