Support the New Oil & Gas Rules

January 22, 2009

The Wildlife Habitat Stewardship Act:
Why Wildlife Conservationists Developed and Support This Landmark Action
As Colorado’s oldest wildlife organization, Colorado Wildlife Federation shares a special pride in our state’s irreplaceable fish and wildlife resources and the habitat that our wildlife species need to survive. We have spent decades working to maintain and enhance the wildlife habitat so important to our state’s heritage and sustainable natural resource based economy. CWF played a key role in the development of House Bill 1298, the Wildlife Habitat Stewardship Act, unanimously approved by the 2007 General Assembly.
The rules unanimously adopted by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) last month to implement HB 1298 were clearly a compromise after extensive hearings by the Commission. The Commissioners reached out to a variety of interests including the oil and gas industry, landowners, conservationists and the environmental community to strike a balance. No single group got all they wished for in these rules.
As conservationists, we were disappointed to see some of the compromises that state officials made, particularly the weakening of rules designed to protect water quality and fisheries habitat in lakes and streams, wetlands that are important for many wildlife species and crucial habitats for big game wildlife. (The COGCC did decide to establish a stakeholder group that will convene shortly to develop recommendations on this important matter.)   Despite these weakened provisions, we still support COGCC’s decision to unanimously adopt these compromise rules. The rules provide new minimum measures of protection for sensitive wildlife habitat at a time when growth and development have reached record levels.
The oil and gas rules are carefully designed to ensure that oil and gas companies can continue to drill thousands of wells for decades to come and tap into the abundant natural gas deposits underlying large areas of Colorado. There are incentives for gas drillers to work with the Colorado Division of Wildlife (CDOW) on comprehensive development plans that allow greater planning to avoid impacts, while making it easier for individual well permits to be granted. More than a dozen companies have already approached the CDOW to initiate such planning, showing this approach is indeed desirable and practicable.
Despite the alarming claims of some of the more vehement supporters of the oil and gas industry, these moderate rules will not drive drilling companies out of the state. As publicly stated by several companies, current problems are the price of natural gas, the credit crisis and pipeline capacity. All of us recognize the importance of responsibly developing our oil and gas resources for the benefit of our state and nation. All interests need to give these new rules a chance, including oil and gas industry officials and our General Assembly. There is no need to dilute or disable these rules before they are implemented. To do so would be disingenuous, and would display a total disregard for the time and effort that went into promulgating the original legislation and the subsequent rules. What we have asked for is a common-sense approach to balance the needs of wildlife and our other natural resources with the responsible development of oil and gas. It is not unreasonable for our citizens to expect that the needs of wildlife to withstand intense development be fully considered before it begins, not as an afterthought.
CONSULTATION: The Colorado Division of Wildlife (DOW) may make written recommendations to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) after consultation. Recommendations focus on steps an operator can take to minimize adverse impacts to wildlife resources.
• Consultation will take place between the operators, the COGCC, the DOW, and the surface owner in situations set out below.
• Consultation is limited to 40 days.
•The conditions recommended by the DOW to the operator are not binding -- the COGCC Director will decide whether attach them to permit approvals.
•The surface owner must agree to the conditions for wildlife habitat protection.
1) Drilling In A Sensitive Wildlife Habitat: The DOW has identified sensitive wildlife habitat areas primarily on the West Slope. When an operator chooses to drill in these areas, it must consult with the COGCC, the DOW, and the surface owner.
• Sensitive Wildlife Habitat Includes: critical winter range for elk, bighorn sheep and mule deer; pronghorn winter concentration areas; elk calving areas; columbian sharp-tailed grouse breeding and nesting habitat; plains sharp-tailed grouse breeding and nesting habitat; greater sage-grouse breeding and nesting habitat; gunnison sage grouse breeding and nesting habitat; lesser prairie chicken breeding and nesting habitat; black-footed ferret habitat; and bald and golden eagle nest sites and winter night roost sites.
•Sensitive wildlife habitat maps are listed on the COGCC and DOW web sites so industry knows the location of these areas ahead of time and may plan accordingly.
• Habitat Maps were developed by biologists. They were subject to review and public comment throughout the rulemaking process and can be changed only through COGCC’s formal rulemaking procedure.
2) Drilling In A Restricted Surface Occupancy Area: These are areas of habitat critical to wildlife that an operator must avoid to the extent technically and economically feasible.
• RSO areas include: Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep lambing areas; desert bighorn sheep lambing areas; within 0.6 miles of sage-grouse lek (breeding area); 0.6 miles of lesser prairie chicken leks (breeding area); within .25 miles of active bald or golden eagle nest site; within .25 miles of osprey nest sites; within 300 feet of cutthroat trout stream or Gold Medal fisheries.
• Where drilling is to take place in an RSO area because avoidance is infeasible, the operator will consult with the operator, COGCC, DOW, and the surface owner.
3) Drilling an Increased Number of Wells In Limited Acreage: In areas where operators want to drill more than one well per 40 acres, the COGCC will consult with the DOW to identify and minimize any adverse impacts to wildlife.
 Jan. 22, 2009
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