Indian Creek’s famed Six Shooters are among the many areas in southeastern Utah that will be protected from drilling under the BLM ‘s new Moab Master Leasing Plan./Photo courtesy Ray Bloxham/SUWA

Fewer wells in Moab, more in Colo.

The Bureau of Land Management is being simultaneously cheered in Utah and jeered in Colorado for its response to the oil and gas boom.

On July 20, the BLM released its long-awaited Moab Master Leasing Plan, which will guide oil, gas and potash development on more than 785,000 acres of public land in southeastern Utah.

 The agency was lauded by environmental groups for working to guide such development away from Canyonlands and Arches national parks as well as nearby proposed wilderness areas.

“The Moab Master Leasing Plan is a significant step toward better BLM management of oil, gas and other minerals in the heart of Utah’s red rock country,” Stephen Bloch, of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, said. “The (plan) gives industry certainty where leasing and ultimately development can take place and also makes plain the terms and conditions for those activities. Likewise, the public and local communities now know that many of southeastern Utah’s stunningly beautiful canyons and mesas won’t be marred by the sight and sound of drill rigs and pump jacks.”

Energy development in southeastern Utah has led to air pollution and the marring of the area’s notorious dark skies and recreation – both of which contribute millions to the state’s economy, according to the Wilderness Society, which also applauded the plan.

Specifically, the Moab MLP:

- Protects Fisher Towers, Porcupine Rim, Six-Shooter Peaks and Goldbar Canyon from future leasing or development

- Protects vistas in Arches and Canyonlands

- Requires the majority of all future leases to be subject to common sense “controlled surface use” stipulations.

- Establishes three “potash leasing areas” where these activities are concentrated.

Despite these victories, the plan does not prohibit all oil and gas development. However, under the plan “leasing and development may proceed in a more thoughtful and deliberate manner,” according to the environmental groups.

Meanwhile, across the border in Colorado, the BLM is facing litigation for its 20-year plan to expand drilling on Colorado’s Western Slope, along the I-70 corridor.

Known as the Colorado River Valley Resource Management Plan, the plan guides oil and gas development on 605,000 acres of public lands over the next 20 years. The plan covers roughly the area from Edwards to DeBeque, and also includes Glenwood Springs, Carbondale, Rifle, Parachute and Eagle.

“BLM’s plan not only perpetuates a model of fossil fuel exploitation on our public lands, but concludes that ‘it is beyond the scope of analysis’ to disclose the climate change impacts of the agency’s decision making,” Brian Sweeney, of the Western Environmental Law Center, said.

The lawsuit was filed July 18 by the Western Environmental Law Center on behalf of the Wilderness Workshop, Western Colorado Congress, Natural Resources Defense Council and Sierra Club. The suit alleges BLM failed to consider human health and climate in the plan, which more than doubles the allowable number of wells.

“For years we have asked BLM to take a hard look at the impacts of oil and gas development. On some issues we’ve made progress. In this plan, however, BLM basically left open all our public lands to future leasing and development, and ignored the fact that oil and gas development impacts human health and contributes to climate change,” Wilderness Workshop’s lawyer Peter Hart said. “We deserve a more thoughtful approach to public land management, and the law requires it.”

The Colorado River Valley Field Office oversees much of the public land in the Piceance Basin, where there are more than 10,000 active wells. The RMP projects an additional 6,640 wells over the next 20 years, not including any private wells that may be drilled. The RMP proposes that most future drilling will occur in areas already developed, increasing health impacts to residents and those who depend on the area’s water, the groups allege.

“As a long-term resident surrounded by oil and gas development, I am disappointed with BLM’s inconstancy,” Bob Arrington, a resident of Battlement Mesa and member of Western Colorado Congress, said. “This action does not take into account the national BLM effort to curb climate-changing methane emissions by improving oil and gas industry practices. It negates improved practices and exposes residents to not just increased methane, but the full range of hazardous hydrocarbons, including the carcinogenic benzene.”

The BLM signed a record of decision approving the Colorado River Valley RMP in June 2015, denying the group’s protest in July 2015.

Cutthroat restoration resumes

The days are numbered for nonnative brook trout in the East Fork of Hermosa Creek. Next week, Aug. 2-3, piscicide will be applied to a 2-mile stretch of the creek as part of a multi-year project to restore native Colorado River cutthroat trout to the Hermosa Creek watershed. Short sections of Relay Creek and Sig Creek will also be treated.

The latest stage of the project, a cooperative effort between Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the Forest Service and Trout Unlimited, will start below Sig Creek Falls and run to just above the confluence with the main stem of Hermosa Creek, a couple hundred yards south of the Hermosa Creek trailhead.

Crews will be using Rotenone, which is described as an organic piscicide, to kill non-native fish – primarily brook trout. Rotenone breaks down quickly and poses no threat to terrestrial wildlife or humans, according to CPW. As a safeguard to prevent fish kills downstream, a neutralizing agent will be added below the treatment area, which may give the water a rust color.

This is the second year for treatment of this section. CPW biologist will check the stream again later this summer. If no brook trout are found, cutthroat could be stocked by early fall.

The work area will be closed to the public during the operation and signs will be posted. Anglers will still have full access to Hermosa Creek and the upper section of East Hermosa Creek above Sig Falls, but any cutthroat caught must be returned.

The Hermosa Creek project is one of the largest native trout restoration projects in the state. The first two stages of the reintroduction were done in 1992 on the upper East Fork and in 2013 on Hermosa Creek above Hotel Draw. The cutthroat are said to be thriving in both areas.The project is projected to be completed by 2018.

– Missy Votel