Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, April 28, 2015

Contact:  Taylor McKinnon, Center for Biological Diversity, (801) 300-2414
John Weisheit, Living Rivers, (435) 259-1063

1.7 Million Acre Fracking Plan Draws Protest in Colorado

Plan for Ninefold Increase in Fracking Wells Ignores Climate Impacts,
Fails to Protect Endangered Fish From Toxic Spills, Water Depletions

DENVER— Four conservation groups on Monday filed a protest against a proposed resource-management plan amendment for increased oil and gas development on the Bureau of Land Management’s White River Field Office in northwestern Colorado. The change to the Bureau of Land Management plan ignores impacts from greenhouse gas pollution and fails to protect endangered fish from water depletions and chemical spills.

As shown here, the White River already suffers significant water depletion and pollution threats from rampant oil and gas development downstream of the White River Field Office in Utah. This photo is available for media use.

Allowing fracking across 1.7 million acres of publicly owned oil and gas deposits, the amended plan projects an increase from about 1,800 to nearly 17,000 wells over the next 20 years and places no limit on the overall rate, number or density of new wells that may be built. Although 80 percent of the oil and gas in the area is leased, the BLM failed to exercise its duty to limit the extent, scope, location and timing of drilling to avoid environmental impacts.

“A ninefold increase in fracking wells across 1.7 million acres shows the dangerous disconnect between the Obama administration’s climate rhetoric and its aggressive fossil fuel expansion on our public lands,” said Taylor McKinnon with the Center for Biological Diversity. “This plan promises more climate pollution, more toxic spills and more water depletions while industrializing Colorado backcountry.”

The protest targets legal violations in the Bureau’s environmental impact statement and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s concurrence that the amended plan protects endangered species. The federal agencies fail to protect endangered fish by underestimating water depletions and chemical spills from 15,000 new wells; ignore key impacts of greenhouse gas emissions, including the social cost of carbon; and fail to consider designating additional areas of critical environmental concern.

In approving the plan under the Endangered Species Act, the agencies relied on an outdated programmatic biological opinion of the impacts of oil and gas water depletions on endangered fish in the Upper Colorado River Basin. They assumed that wells would use, on average, 2.62 acre-feet of freshwater per year for all drilling and construction activities, including fracking. But the average water use of fracking wells in Rio Blanco County, which mostly falls within the White River planning area, was almost three times that amount — just for fracking alone. From 2011 to 2014 in the White River, Grand Junction, Kremmling, Colorado River Valley and Little Snake field offices, the average water use for horizontal wells was 11.6 acre-feet per year.

Horizontal wells in the Grand Junction Field Office in 2014 depleted up to 68.3 and 70.8 acre-feet of fresh water. Water depletions are a primary threat to endangered fish, including the Colorado pikeminnow and razorback sucker.

“The Colorado River system’s endangered fish can’t handle more water depletions. The river system is already over-allocated and climate change is making that situation worse,” said John Weisheit of Living Rivers. “It’s hard to imagine a more self-destructive policy for the Colorado River Basin than using scarce fresh water for more climate-destroying fossil fuel extraction.”

Federal agencies also incorrectly assumed that toxic spills from 15,000 new wells would be unlikely to adversely impact endangered fish. Oil and gas development in the Upper Colorado Basin has caused nearly 500 spills in Rio Blanco County between 2000 and 2012. Between January 2008 and July 2014, 12 self-reported spills in the White River Field Office planning area contaminated surface or ground water, an average of two spills per year. A ninefold expansion in wells would be expected to cause a ninefold increase in spills over the next 20 years — to more than 18 toxic spills per year.

The plan condemns to extinction the Parachute-Piceance-Roan population of the imperiled greater sage grouse by failing to protect the species’ scant remaining undeveloped habitat in the planning area. The Bureau’s environmental impact statement also fails to adequately assess the impacts of greenhouse gas emissions of new fracking wells; it estimates that drilling allowed by the plan would cause about 4.2 million metric tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent per year — more than would be emitted by a coal-fired power plant across the plan’s 20-year life.

Groups protesting the amended plan are the Center for Biological Diversity, Rocky Mountain Wild, Living Rivers and Utah Rivers Council.

Download a copy of the protest.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 825,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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