Guest columnist: Don’t drill away our future
Vail CO, Colorado
As hunters take to Colorado’s deer- and elk-rich public lands, and brown trout spawn in our world-renowned blue-ribbon trout streams, debate over the well-being of these very resources we cherish is taking place 1,800 miles to the east in Washington, D.C.
The debate is over drilling for oil and gas on public land, and finding balance between extraction and the protection of the fish, wildlife and hunting and angling opportunities that make western Colorado such a sportsmen’s Mecca.
But there shouldn’t be much debate. Hunters and anglers are calling on Congress to implement common-sense provisions in an energy bill that will protect our fish and wildlife while ensuring that responsible oil and gas development continues to bring prosperity to our region.
Recently, the U.S. House passed an energy bill that includes sensible reforms to oil and gas policy and is a critical first step toward restoring balance to public lands management. Specifically, the House-passed bill requires the oil and gas industry to pay its fair share of the cost for permitting; ensures that oil and gas companies will clean up their mess after they are done drilling on our public lands; requires the Bureau of Land Management update its best management practices to protect wildlife; ensures that oil and gas operators on federal public lands replace water supplies that are lost or damaged as a result of drilling operations; and allows the Roan Plateau to be leased for natural gas developing while protecting the top of the plateau and fish and wildlife with “no surface occupancy” stipulations.
These truly are workable provisions and our representatives in the U.S. House should be commended for their leadership and willingness to balance protection and extraction. Take for instance, the Roan Plateau no-surface-occupancy provision championed by Reps. John Salazar and Mark Udall. The area affected by this provision encompasses less than 36,000 acres (an area roughly 7 miles by 8 miles) and is already surrounded by leases and private industry lands to the north, west and south. According to a 2006 study by the U.S. Department of the Interior, in the Uinta/Piceance Basin ” the oil- and gas-producing region of western Colorado and eastern Utah of which the Roan Plateau is a part ” more than 90 percent of the estimated gas reserves available from public lands are already open to leasing; the top of the Roan Plateau is less than 0.3 percent of these public lands.
Clearly this is the kind of balance that sportsmen have been calling for and protection of this small area we call the Roan Plateau will not result in the closing off of the rest of this natural gas-rich area, as some local lawmakers and the industry that aggressively lobbies Congress have misleadingly been touting.
Now is the time for the Senate, and Colorado Sens. Wayne Allard and Ken Salazar, to step up and improve upon what our representatives have accomplished in bringing balance back to energy development in western Colorado.
In addition to the provisions in the House-passed energy bill, Sens. Allard and Salazar can help ensure that two more provisions are included in a Senate energy bill that will help us to truly achieve this balance.
– Currently, oil and gas developments are exempt from storm water regulations in the Clean Water Act. The Senate needs to see to it that the oil and gas industry is governed by the same law as every other industry in order to ensure our streams and rivers remain healthy for generations to come.
– Provisions in the 2005 Energy Policy Act made it so that certain oil and gas developments are “categorically excluded” from environmental reviews, including public comment. The Senate should see to it that these “categorical exclusions” provisions are repealed, and that all oil and gas developments be subject to thorough National Environmental Policy Act reviews, including public comment so that hunters and anglers have a say concerning drilling in the places they hunt and fish.
This fall, while sportsmen are out casting steamers to thick brown trout and stalking elk through golden aspen leaves, it isn’t just these pastimes they have on their minds. Ensuring that our children will be able to share in this heritage in the wake of energy development in western Colorado is at the forefront too.
Let’s hope our senators in Washington, D.C., realize this as clearly as our representatives have.
Bob Millet is an avid Colorado sportsman and a volunteer for Trout Unlimited from Glenwood Springs. He can be reached at (970) 947-9613.