Groups aim to rein in energy drillers |

Groups aim to rein in energy drillers

Donna Gray
Vail, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” Several groups of Western conservationists are pushing for tighter control on oil and gas development through changes to the Energy Policy Act of 2005.

The Western Energy Agenda calls on Congress to repeal parts of the act and provide for tighter rules for environmental protection and slowing down the pace of drilling on some federal lands.

The groups, including the Aspen Wilderness Workshop, Western Colorado Congress and the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance, will take their case to legislators, said Steve Smith, assistant regional director of The Wilderness Society.

“We want to help establish the true sense of multiple use on public lands,” he said.

In the last five years, since oil and gas development took off in western Colorado, “energy development had been dominant or the single use” on federally managed lands, he said. That dominance has disrupted recreation and threatens wilderness areas, he said.

“As important as it is” to develop energy supplies, “we feel there are other values that are more enduring,” he said. “Some places are too wild to drill.”

In a statement outlining the agenda in late February, the groups said the federal Bureau of Land Management continues to “fast-track leases on millions of acres of public lands each year,” including on the Roan Plateau in western Garfield County.

The agency completed a resource management plan last year, which has yet to be approved, that calls for development of thousands of acres on top of the plateau, a plan strenuously opposed by conservation groups in the state.

The agenda’s guidelines would also protect water supplies by blocking exemptions for the oil and gas industry from meeting rules set by the Clean Water Act.

“I’ve personally witnessed the growing conflicts between the oil and gas industry and the West’s hunters and anglers, landowners and ranchers ” conflicts that could have been avoided if the government and industry had played by the rules in the first place,” said Duke Cox, president of the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance.

The conservation groups advocate repealing sections of the Energy Policy Act, which require the Bureau of Land Management to process applications for drilling permits within the agency taking an inordinate amount of time to issue drilling permits.

Marc Smith, executive director of the Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States, said he agrees that balance is important. That includes balancing supply with rising demand for energy, he said.

“We absolutely will sit down with anybody about how we build a bridge to the renewable future,” Smith said. “But I don’t agree that we need to knock down the existing footbridge before we begin construction on the new bridge.”

Steve Smith said the next step for the conservation groups will be to lobby legislators for the changes, especially as oversight committees hold hearings in Washington to consider revisions to the Energy Policy Act.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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