Shared from the 3/30/2019 The Denver Post eEdition
BLM, FOREST SERVICE
By Judith Kohler
The Denver Post
A judge has ordered two federal agencies to meet with environmental organizations that sued over oil and gas drilling in western Colorado to sort out questions about the projects’ effects on wildlife and the indirect effects on air quality.
U.S. District Judge Lewis T. Babcock ruled Wednesday that the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service violated federal environmental law when it approved two drilling projects. The 146-well Bull Mountain project, about 30 miles northeast of Paonia, was approved in 2017. And a 25-well project between Paonia and Carbondale was approved in 2015.
The BLM and Forest Service violated the National Environmental Policy Act by “not taking a hard look at the foreseeable indirect effects resulting from the combustion of oil and gas,” Babcock wrote. The agencies also violated the law by not adequately assessing the cumulative impacts of drilling on mule deer and elk, he said.
Babcock ordered the agencies and lawyers for the six environmental organizations that sued to try to agree to solutions. If an agreement isn’t reached, the judge said the parties can submit briefs.
Backcock ruled against the environmental groups on other issues. He found that the federal agencies sufficiently considered the drilling’s cumulative impacts on climate change and the effects on water quality and quantity, air quality and human health.
Colorado BLM officials are reviewing the judge’s decision and “will confer in a good faith attempt to reach agreement with the plaintiffs,” BLM spokeswoman Kirby-Lynn Shedlowski said in an email.
Representatives of the environmental organizations said Babcock’s decision is an important win for public lands, wildlife, communities and efforts to deal with climate change.
“The Bull Mountain area is home to important populations of elk and mule deer, iconic species increasingly under threat from surrounding oil and gas development,” Matt Reed, public lands director at Crested Butte’s High Country Conservation Advocates, said in a statement. “Ensuring that impacts from this project are considered, analyzed, and adequately addressed is critical to maintaining their long-term vitality in the Upper North Fork.”