Protection sought for Grand Hogback |

Protection sought for Grand Hogback

Dennis Webb
Vail, CO Colorado

RIFLE ” A push to provide special protections to Bureau of Land Management land north of Rifle will likely will have to be balanced against energy development interests.

Environmental groups have proposed that the land bureau create a 12,340-acre Area of Critical Environmental Concern on the Grand Hogback from Rifle Gap to Piceance Creek Road in Garfield County.

The area is one of several the groups are proposing for protection in the region, with other local ones including the Thompson Creek area south of Carbondale and Deep Creek east of Glenwood Springs.

The part of the Grand Hogback proposed for protection includes the Rifle Arch. The area also is home to elk, red-tailed hawks, golden eagles and the rare Wetherill’s milkvetch plant.

However, the entire area also is open to oil and gas leasing and Heath Nero of The Wilderness Society said some of the area already has been leased.

Where leasing already has occurred, Nero said, the effort to protect the land may come down to asking the land bureau to impose the strictest possible conditions of approval on drilling to minimize damage.

Environmentalists also are hoping to convince the land bureau not to lease unleased parcels, and not to renew any leases that expire after 10 years if no development has occurred.

The Grand Hogback, a geological uplift stretching across part of western Garfield County, is at the eastern edge of the natural gas-rich Piceance Basin. The gas-bearing sandstone formations surface along the Hogback, and it remains unclear how close productive drilling will be to the Hogback.

Marc Smith, executive director of the Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States, said it makes sense to allow extension of gas development to areas close to where development already is occurring and support infrastructure is nearby.

Nero counters that with so much development already occurring in the Piceance Basin, special places such as the Grand Hogback north of Rifle should be protected.

“It’s kind of becoming an island in a sea of gas development,” Nero said.

The Roan Plateau, just west of the Grand Hogback, already has been a national focal point in the debate over what federal lands should be off-limits to drilling. The land bureau is planning to allow drilling on the plateau, with strict limitations aimed at reducing impacts.

Now, the agency is working on a separate management plan for the rest of its Glenwood Springs resource area, including the Grand Hogback north of Rifle. Nero said one possibility on the Grand Hogback would be to require repairing areas before energy development could move on .

Smith believes reclamation can leave land looking as if it never had been drilled.

“Most people who work in this industry are from the West and work in the West,” Smith said. “We have every intent of keeping it a nice place to live, so there’s strong sentiment within our industry, especially in Colorado, to really take excellent care of all of our development areas and make sure that we’re using the best technologies and practices to ensure the least temporary impact possible.”

Environmentalists also are asking the land bureau to do away with “open” travel areas for off-road vehicles and instead adopt a “designated routes only” policy.

Boyd said the agency welcomes comments such as those that environmental groups have been submitting.

“This is what we want to hear ” people’s concerns and the issues they want to see addressed in the plan,” he said.

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