U.S. Forest Service Withdraws Drilling Approval in Gunnison National Forest (press release 6.14.13)

At the Urging of Conservation Groups, USFS Reverses Course on Drilling Permit in Critical Big Game Habitat Near the Headwaters of the North Fork of the Gunnison River
Paonia, Colorado

June 14, 2013

PAONIA, CO – The U.S. Forest Service (USFS), Paonia Ranger District announced this week that it is withdrawing its decision to approve an oil and gas drilling permit in the Gunnison National Forest. The Western Environmental Law Center submitted an administrative appeal on behalf of Citizens for a Healthy Community challenging the drilling approval because USFS failed to complete the legally mandated site-specific environmental analysis of drilling impacts.

The agency sought to approve the drilling request through a categorical exclusion, claiming that the site-specific environmental analysis had already been completed for the area. However, closer examination of the agency’s decision revealed that no such analysis had ever been performed, and that the project USFS was basing its decision upon was itself approved through a categorical exclusion – meaning that development would occur without ever evaluating the impacts of the proposed drilling on important wildlife habitat and water resources in Colorado’s North Fork Valley.

“Public lands managers need to take a hard look at the negative impacts of drilling our forests,” said Jim Ramey, Director of Citizens for a Healthy Community. “We appreciate that the Forest Service is not moving forward with this proposal under a process that fails to evaluate environmental impacts.”

“Although this proposal didn’t involve a huge number of acres, it would have set a bad precedent for the manner in which federal agencies manage and approve oil and gas development on our public lands,” explained WELC attorney, Kyle Tisdel. “Failing to provide any site-specific analysis of an oil and gas development is legally indefensible, and the Forest Service correctly recognized this failure in withdrawing its approval.”

The proposed well pad is located in the Gunnison National Forest near County Road 265 (Collbran Rd.) and is located in an elk winter concentration area. USFS has not announced its plans to proceed with the drilling request.

Learn more about WELC's work to protect Colorado's North Fork Valley from oil and gas drilling.

Jim Ramey, Director, Citizens for a Healthy Community, 970-765-7111, chc.director@gmail.com
Kyle Tisdel, Attorney, Western Environmental Law Center, 575-613-8050, tisdel@westernlaw.org