Towns move to protect water from drilling
GRAND JUNCTION ” Communities in western Colorado, where energy development is booming, have gained support from the state’s congressional delegation as they try to keep drilling out of areas that supply their drinking water.
Palisade and Grand Junction are protesting plans to sell federal oil and gas leases in their watersheds at a Bureau of Land Management auction Feb. 9. Democrats Sen. Ken Salazar and Rep. John Salazar have asked the bureau to postpone any action so the potential effects on the springs and other water sources can be studied.
“We need to take the time to do this the right way,” said John Salazar, whose district includes the two communities.
The 10 parcels totaling 16,500 acres on the Grand Mesa include about 70 percent of Palisade’s watershed and are among 167,345 acres the bureau will offer for lease. Most of the land is in western Colorado, where much of the state’s record natural gas production is taking place.
Energy companies nominate land and minerals for lease during the bureau’s quarterly auctions. Spokeswoman Theresa Sauer on Friday said the agency likely will decide whether to withdraw the leases by early this month.
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“We understand that gas is important and that we need it, but we feel watersheds are not the place to do drilling,” Palisade Mayor Doug Edwards said.
The town, home to fruit orchards and wineries, is taking out loans to build a $6 million water treatment plant to replace one that suffered structural damage in 2004. Edwards said the town council decided to protest the proposed leases after it decided that a 1987 bureau management plan doesn’t have enough safeguards for watersheds.
Matt Sura of the environmental group Western Colorado Congress has worked with Palisade on the issue and said the bureau’s plan for the area doesn’t address updated drilling techniques such as those that don’t require waste pits, a potential source of contaminated runoff.
“If anybody buys those leases and if there’s any kind of accident, if anything at all happens up there that would harm our water, the land up there, that could shut us down,” Edwards said.
Palisade and Grand Junction get water from springs on the Grand Mesa, a large, flat-topped mountain that towers over the two. The communities asked Colorado’s two senators and John Salazar for help to protect their water supplies.
Sen. Ken Salazar has called for postponing development on the Grand Mesa, saying that rushing to lease the land or ignoring the communities’ concerns wouldn’t be “a prudent path toward solving the nation’s energy problems.”
On the Net:
Colorado office of the Bureau of Land Management, oil and gas leases: http://www.co.blm.gov/oilandgas/leasinfo.htm.