Pitkin County urges no new oil and gas leases in White River National Forest | VailDaily.com

Pitkin County urges no new oil and gas leases in White River National Forest

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado

ASPEN, Colorado – Pitkin County is urging the White River National Forest to close forest lands to future oil and gas leasing as existing leases expire.

The 2.3 million-acre forest in northwest Colorado surrounds Aspen and Pitkin County and is important to tourism and recreation in the county, says a letter outlining the county’s stand on oil and gas leasing in the White River.

“Given the significant amount of oil and gas that has been produced on the Western Slope over the last 15 years, we request that consideration be given to analysis of the socio-economic and resource benefits of administratively closing lands to future leasing,” reads the letter, tweaked by county commissioners on Tuesday. All five commissioners intend to sign it.

The letter acknowledges the need for the oil and gas industry, but notes the “significant importance” of local tourism.

“The undeveloped public lands on the White River National Forest provide visitors and residents with extraordinary opportunities for experiencing the natural environment, and are central to our economy,” the letter reads.

The county also advocates withdrawing all roadless areas of the forest from leasing.

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The county’s input comes as the U.S. Forest Service updates its regulations regarding oil and gas leasing on the White River. An environmental impact statement is being prepared as part of that update, and the Forest Service is seeking “scoping comments” on the document.

The county’s letter also asks that the Thompson Creek area, outside of Carbondale, be unavailable for leasing.

A 4,800-acre area known as Jerome Park, located in western Pitkin County and eastern Garfield County, was placed under a conservation easement through an investment of more than $10 million from the county and other funding sources, the letter notes.

“Oil and gas development in the Thompson Creek area, that surrounds and is accessed through Jerome Park, would have adverse impacts on this conserved land,” the letter says.

The Thompson Creek/Assignation Ridge area, which includes lands proposed as a wilderness area, should be closed to future oil and gas leasing, the county said, acknowledging existing leases in the area.

The county also urged the Forest Service to incorporate all of the safety provisions, including wildlife protections, of the federal Consolidated Land, Energy and Aquatic Resources Act that relate to on-shore oil and gas development, into its policy.

The letter also calls for protection of ground water associated with hydraulic fracturing, or “frac’ing” – a process that helps release oil or gas by opening fractures in the rock.

Next week, commissioners are scheduled to review the county’s updated oil and gas regulations – a discussion that has been delayed several times since the code amendments won initial approval in March.

janet@aspentimes.com