The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will move forward with the Bull Mountain development plan roughly 15 miles northeast of Paonia. The project with its 146 federal wells and the 25-well dual operator 5-Pad proposal is not new but rather a continuation of a plan slowed down by ongoing litigation.
Opposed by a number of conservation and environment groups in Colorado, the project was put on hold while an analysis was being conducted and subsequent activities and APDs approved in 2015 and 2017 were suspended.
In 2018 Citizens for a Healthy Community,High Country Conservation Advocates, the Center for Biological Diversity, WildEarth Guardians and the Wilderness Workshop filed a lawsuit challenging the BLM’s decision on the two projects.
“As a result of the lawsuit, on Dec. 10, 2019, the court ordered the BLM to conduct further analysis of the reasonably foreseeable indirect impacts of oil and gas, and the suspension of approved applications for permits to drill (APDs) for the projects, and enjoined the agencies from approving further project APDs, until they had completed the supplemental analysis,” said Natasha Leger ,CHC executive director.
She said BLM found that the two projects combined could result in the equivalent of up to 15.66 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions over 30 years.
“They recognize that climate change is a result of these aggregate projects but then they just decided to look at the local impacts and say that ‘doesn’t make a dent in global greenhouse gas emissions so, it’s not significant so, move forward,'” Leger said.
According to the BLM, there are no significant impacts that would keep the project from moving forward.
Stephanie Connolly, manger of BLM’s Colorado Southwest District, reported that the project would only amount to “a very small percentage (approximately 0.2%) of expected emissions from all oil and gas sources in Colorado for the same 30-year period.”
Leger disagrees, “The North Fork Valley is in the middle of a climate hot spot, warming faster than the global average. This decision is more than disappointing in light of that. With this decision, the BLM is basically saying it's okay to continue to contribute to climate change because the emissions from local projects don’t make a dent in global emissions.”
Leger said during the process the BLM did not “substantively respond to their comments and essentially blew off the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment concerns regarding the conflict between the proposed action and Colorado’s goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”
Western Slope Conservation Center, in Paonia, also commented on the latest development saying “it is far from over.”
“WSCC continues to stand with the coalition of groups who previously filed a lawsuit on the matter, and we continue to believe that every community has the right to protect itself from negative impacts related to oil and gas development,” said Tanya Henderson, executive director.
Conservation groups are waiting to see what changes will take place with the new Biden administration. WSCC said they “ look forward to leaders who take climate change seriously and who work with us to adequately manage our local public lands as climate solutions and benefits to our diverse, rural economy.”
Satisfied with the results of the supplemental analysis of the downstream climate-greenhouse gas emissions impact, the BLM will now allow drilling. When drilling will start likely depend on natural gas prices and getting well permits.