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BLM’s failure to implement master leasing plans in prime fish and wildlife habitat represents a flawed approach to public lands energy development, say sportsmen

DENVER – The Bureau of Land Management has considered the list of Colorado candidates for leasing reforms that take a landscape-scale look at conservation of public lands, and the result is no good news for fish, wildlife and sportsmen.

Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development said Thursday that the BLM’s decision not to approve a master leasing plan for South Park, a premier fish and wildlife haven in central Colorado, is the latest case of the agency’s failure to follow through on the promised reforms a year after identifying sites that merit MLPs. None has been approved in Colorado and little progress has been made in other Western states.

South Park, prized by sportsmen for its world-class fisheries and pronghorn, mule deer and elk herds, is a prime candidate for an MLP, which would identify important conservation values and potential cumulative impacts early in the energy development process, SFRED said.

The sportsmen’s coalition is led by Trout Unlimited, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and the National Wildlife Federation.

“Despite the economic slump, oil and gas development continues to grow in Colorado. Yet the BLM is not utilizing one of its best management tools to secure certainty for industry by focusing on long-term, comprehensive planning that also protects fish, wildlife, habitat and water quality,” said John Gale, NWF’s regional representative. “The BLM has failed to keep an important part of its promise to balance our energy needs with the hunting, fishing and recreation on public lands that boost rural economies and sustain our Western heritage.”

The BLM describes a master leasing plan as a way “to restore needed balance to the development process by improving protections for land, water and wildlife” and to address potential conflicts.

An MLP would provide a crucial step between the more general, overarching resource management plan and approvals for specific leases and drilling permits, when there’s limited opportunity for analysis of the potential, cumulative impacts, said Suzanne O’Neill, executive director of the Colorado Wildlife Federation, which formally proposed South Park for an MLP.

“The BLM’s rejection on Tuesday of an MLP for South Park is an opportunity lost,” O’Neill added. “The BLM’s explanation was that it would be jumping the gun because South Park hasn’t seen that much oil and gas activity. But that’s precisely the right time to act, before the great tracts of unfragmented habitat are carved up and the South Platte and its tributaries are threatened.”

About 450 people and businesses, many of them from the South Park area, signed a petition asking the BLM to approve an MLP to conserve one of the “last wild places” while allowing energy development.

In Colorado’s North Park, a site proposed by the BLM itself for a master leasing plan, agency officials deemed the proposal too late because the area already is “substantially leased.”

“So, it would appear that we are too late for North Park and too early for South Park,” SFRED wrote in a Feb. 1 letter to BLM Director Bob Abbey.

The lack of final guidance for the development of MLPs has created confusion within the agency and among the public about where and when the plans should be used, according to SFRED.

North Park contains the headwaters of the North Platte River and is home to moose, elk, bear, pronghorn, mule deer and the greater sage-grouse, which is a candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act. Both North Park and South Park already have oil and gas wells and sit atop the oil-rich Niobrara formation, seen as possibly the nation’s next big play.

“If not North Park and South Park, where are they going to do MLPs?” asked Trout Unlimited’s Bob Meulengracht, who lives in Colorado. “The BLM is in the process of writing new resource management plans, yet they’re pooh-poohing the idea of master leasing plans.’’

Meulengracht challenged the BLM’s reasoning that at roughly 50 percent, too much of North Park is already leased to preclude preparation of an MLP.

“What makes 50 percent substantial?” Meulengracht asked. “North Park has been called the Serengeti of Colorado, and that characterization is absolutely appropriate. It has some of the best hunting and fishing around. It’s a special place, one worth conserving.”

Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development is a coalition of more than 500 businesses, organizations and individuals dedicated to conserving irreplaceable habitats so future generations can hunt and fish on public lands. The coalition is led by Trout Unlimited, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and the National Wildlife Federation.

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Sportsmen underscore need for transparency, balanced natural resources management
on public lands as new energy regulations are weighed

DENVER – The Bureau of Land Management’s proposed rules on public disclosure of the contents of hydraulic fracturing fluids, as well as the handling of wastewater and the integrity of well casings, represent a step forward in ensuring responsible energy development on public lands, a sportsmen’s coalition said Monday.

Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development has called on the BLM to make sure resources such as water, fish and wildlife are conserved when oil and gas are developed on public lands. The draft rule on hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” is a prudent response to concerns about the potential impacts of drilling and the handling of drilling fluids on the lands that are crucial to the West’s water supplies, fish and wildlife, said Brad Powell, energy director for Trout Unlimited’s Sportsmen’s Conservation Project. TU is a member of the SFRED coalition.

The proposed federal rule would require public disclosure of the chemicals in fracking fluids before and during drilling. Companies stating that the fracking mixtures are proprietary would have to explain why the information should be kept from the public.

The proposal also addresses testing to ensure the integrity of well casings, pipes placed down a borehole and held in place by cement to keep the oil and gas from mingling with anything else.
The document includes rules for safely storing and disposing of waste from recovered fluids.

Some states, including Wyoming and Colorado, have approved regulations requiring disclosure of fracking fluids’ contents as increased drilling has raised concerns about the chemicals used.

“Complete and timely public disclosure is an important step toward ensuring that public health, water quality, fish and wildlife are protected from contamination by hydraulic fracturing,” said Michael Saul, attorney with the National Wildlife Federation, also an SFRED member. “BLM is moving in the right direction by mandating disclosure of all chemicals and by codifying the prohibition on unlined storage pits.”

“Sportsmen are pleased that our federal decision makers recognize the need to increase transparency during all phases of energy planning and development,” said Tom Franklin, senior director of science and policy for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, an SFRED member. “We will continue to work closely with the administration, Congress, industry and our conservation partners to assure that public lands energy projects employ a science-based approach that sustains our nation’s fish and wildlife resources and outdoors opportunities.”

Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development is a coalition of more than 500 businesses, organizations and individuals dedicated to conserving irreplaceable habitats so future generations can hunt and fish on public lands. The coalition is led by Trout Unlimited, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and the National Wildlife Federation.

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