DAILY SENTINEL 9-5-15 Regional lands too wild to drill

Sep 5, 2015

Regional lands
 too wild to drill, report contends

The Grand Junction area is too wild to be drilled, according to The Wilderness Society, which also lists the Thompson Divide area as needing to be cordoned off from drilling.

The West Slope near Grand Junction is “under siege from surrounding oil and gas drilling operations and motorized vehicles,” according to the society.

The report, responded the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association, amounts to “a disjointed conflation of misaligned landmarks and goofy claims.”

A photograph of Mee Canyon Alcove in the Black Ridge Wilderness graces the society’s listing of Grand Junction on the list of places too wild to drill.

In placing the Grand Junction office on the list, the society asks the Bureau of Land Management to reconsider protective management for what it said are wilderness-quality lands in the resource-management plan that the agency approved last month.

While the agency has taken its final action, The Wilderness Society still hopes to work with the BLM on several areas within the jurisdiction of the Grand Junction Field Office, said Nada Culver, senior counsel and director of the BLM for the society in Denver.

The listing isn’t to be considered a prelude to a lawsuit, Culver said.

“We’re hoping we can find ways to improve the management and recognition of these areas.”

Mee Canyon Alcove in the Black Ridge Wilderness Area is prominently featured in the society’s description of the Grand Junction area.

Other locales within the Grand Junction region include Bangs Canyon, South Shale Ridge, Spink Canyon, Granite Creek, Unaweep, Kings Canyon, Brush Mountain, Sinbad Valley on Sewemup Mesa, Spring Canyon, the Bookcliffs and Munger Creek.

“Colorado’s western slope near Grand Junction, which forms a portion of the Colorado Plateau, is a treasure trove of canyon complexes that provides unparalleled wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities,” the society says in its listing. “The area is home to bighorn sheep, native Colorado cutthroat trout, and a multitude of birds, including rare whooping cranes and Mexican spotted owls, burrowing owls, peregrine falcons and eagles. The area near Grand Junction is a mountain biking mecca and a hiker’s paradise.”

The approved resource management plan includes a master leasing plan that comprises 700,900 surface and subsurface acres, of which 452,500 acres already have been leased.

The West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association “has offered the Wilderness Society, based in San Francisco, a tour of local natural gas operations as well as a visit to Grand Junction,” said Executive Director David Ludlam. “Improving their understanding of natural gas, and its importance to society, may help move the debate away from a tradition of wild-eyed, indiscriminate incriminations of the energy business.”

“We try to recognize that economic development is going to occur on public lands,” Culver said. “Yes, it’s difficult, but a part of master leasing plans is leasing.” Still, it’s important to discuss how to deal with areas such as those on the list, Culver said.

Similar approaches have worked with Bangs Canyon and South Shale Ridge, Culver said.

Other areas on the society’s list are the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, Badger-Two Medicine, Montana, Desolation Canyon and Bears Ears in Utah.