Groups rally behind oil, gas well proposal
DENVER – Freshman state representative Dan Gibbs (D-Silverthorne) said he hopes to create a national model for balancing wildlife protection and energy development when he introduces a bill laying out guidelines for softening the impact of oil and gas drilling.Supporters say 55 environmental, hunting and fishing groups are behind the proposal.Gibbs, the sponsor, said wildlife and energy are both important to Colorado’s economy”I think we can strike a balance that’s reasonable,” said Gibbs, a hunter.The guidelines include reducing the amount of land disturbed by development, speeding restoration and encouraging consultation between energy companies, landowners and wildlife officials. The bill would apply to private and state land, but not federal, where much of the development in western Colorado is taking place.”I think this could be a model for potential federal legislation as well,” Gibbs said.He said he has tried to find common ground during talks with environmentalists, hunters and anglers, farmers and ranchers, state regulators and industry representatives.EnCana Oil & Gas (USA), one of the state’s largest natural gas producers, doesn’t plan to take a position on the proposal until it sees the language, spokeswoman Wendy Wiedenbeck said.”We believe that the guidelines don’t apply in all situations and need to be reviewed on a case-by-case basis,” she said.The state Division of Wildlife also is waiting to see a draft of the bill, spokesman Tim Holeman said.Gibbs said he plans to introduce the legislation sometime in the next week.”This is kind of a first step,” said Clare Bastable, conservation director of the Colorado Mountain Club, one of the early supporters of the guidelines. “It provides us with a tangible piece of legislation.”The measure is still a work in progress but likely will incorporate guidelines drafted about two years ago by Bob Elderkin of the Colorado Mule Deer Association and Dennis Buechler of the Colorado Wildlife Federation. They circulated the guidelines among other Colorado organizations and government officials.Buechler, a retired U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist, said the 55 groups backing the guidelines represent tens of thousands of Coloradans. The groups include several outfitters’ associations, several Trout Unlimited chapters, the Colorado Bowhunters Association, the Western Colorado Sportsmen’s Council, The Wilderness Society and the Colorado Environmental Coalition.The town councils of Rifle, Silt and New Castle, all in gas-rich Garfield County, support the guidelines.”It’s not to say that some companies haven’t started doing good things, but it’s not happening consistently across the industry,” Buechler said.EnCana already uses several of the suggested techniques, spokeswoman Wiedenbeck said. The company is trying a number of new approaches on land it owns near Parachute to lessen the effects on wildlife and the environment, she said.”We are and will continue to engage with environmental groups, conservation groups, sportsmen’s groups,” Wiedenbeck said.Gibbs said energy development is important to Colorado’s economy, creating jobs and generating tax revenue. But he said wildlife is a big part of the state’s tourism draw, with hunting and fishing contributing roughly $2 billion annually to the state’s overall take of at least $8 billion from recreation and tourism.”I want people to think of Colorado as a wonderful recreation and tourism area,” Gibbs said.Ivan James of the Colorado Bowhunters Association said no one wants to shut down energy development, but he doesn’t believe the nation has enough oil or gas to meet all its needs.”If you look at the long term, there are going to have to be changes,” James said. “There’s going to be a transition into some other kind of way of doing things.”He said he wants to make sure Colorado’s wildlife and habitat are maintained along the way.”There are a lot of benefits to that that may not be measured in somebody’s bottom line,” James said.
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