Energy development: ‘It’s David vs. Godzilla’ |

Energy development: ‘It’s David vs. Godzilla’

summit daily news
Summit County, CO Colorado

SUMMIT COUNTY ” Energy development in the Rocky Mountains represents the most urgent threat to the region’s wildlife, panelists said Friday at a workshop during the annual National Wildlife Federation meeting at Keystone.

Conservation advocates explained that they are trying to work both at the national and state levels to stem the tide habitat fragmentation and degradation resulting from widespread oil and gas extraction.

“In the wild, animals have to move around,” said the federation’s Dr. Steve Torbit, a public lands expert. “Public lands provide reservoirs of needed habitat. But the current emphasis in public lands management is commodities production. We need to protect large blocks of roadless areas.”

Under pressure to develop domestic energy resources, federal agencies have turned away from balancing multiple uses in recent years. But Torbit said conservation groups have been making some progress.

The Western Governors’ Association has adopted a policy calling for protection of important migration routes and habitat in the region, a first step toward reforming national energy policy, Torbit said.

Walt Gasson, director of the Wyoming Wildlife Federation, said impacts to big game animals have been well documented during the state’s recent energy boom. In one natural gas field, drilling and associated activities caused a 41 percent loss of high-use mule deer habitat, Gasson said. Other studies show similar affects on sage grouse and pronghorn antelope.

Speaking to a national audience, Torbit asked for support from around the country.

“The West is incapable of saving its public lands by itself. We need help from the people from all over the country that come here to hunt, fish and take pictures,” Torbit said.

The energy boom is also taking a wildlife toll in Colorado, said Dennis Buechler, a member of the Colorado Wildlife Commission.

“We need to find a way to get ahead of this,” Buechler said, raising an alarm about the fast pace of habitat loss, especially in the northwestern part of the state.

Conservation advocates made some gains in the state this year, especially with passage of the Colorado Habitat Stewardship Act (HB1298), which sets some rules and guidelines energy development.

“We’re still concerned about the lack of adequate reclamation,” Buechler said, explaining how the oil and gas wells sometimes end up with smaller companies as hand-me-downs. Bonding for reclamation should follow the well regardless of ownership, Buechler said. There should also be bonding for interim reclamation, as well as better monitoring and enforcement of existing regulations.

HB 1298 sets broad policy. Now, industry and regulators are trying to translate that into on-the-ground rules, and Buechler said the energy companies are trying to tactically delay adoption as long as possible.

Buechler said the state wildlife commission sees the rules as the bare minimum of what’s needed to protect wildlife, and that they don’t offer enough protection for mule deer habitat needed in severe winter conditions, or for sage grouse nesting and breeding areas.

“It’s not David versus Goliath, it’s David versus Godzilla,” Buechler said.

In Colorado, 3.4 million acres of public land are already leased for oil and gas wells.

Many of the leases were pushed through under so-called categorical exclusions, a mode of decision making that leaves out public comment.

“We need to change the way the federal government administers those leases through the permitting process,” Buechler said, calling for reform of the National Energy Policy Act of 2005.

“We need to roll this back and get energy development under control,” Buechler concluded.

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