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Climate Impacts Must Be Considered In Future Colorado River Basin Oil Leases

Oct 2, 2019

Oil and gas development at the foot of the Roan Plateau in the Piceance Basin.
Credit Wilderness Workshop

The Bureau of Land Management has been ordered to halt drilling and sales of new oil leases in the Colorado River Valley in order to consider the climate impacts of development on its lands. Carbondale-based Wilderness Workshop, the Sierra Club and other environmental groups had gone to court on this issue in 2017.

Aspen Journalism environment desk editor Elizabeth Stewart-Severy has been following the story. 

“The ruling now says they (Bureau of Land Management) have to consider the downstream effects of drilling, which includes things like once that oil is out of the ground what are the impacts of burning it to cook or burning it to heat your home,” Stewart-Severy explained.  “This requires a much more comprehensive look at climate impacts of not just the extraction out of the ground but the end use as well.”

Though this ruling could have a major impact on future oil drilling, Stewart-Severy says it probably won’t have any immediate effect.

“I spoke with Eric Carlson who’s the executive director of the West Slope Oil and Gas Association,” Stewart-Severy said. “ His membership includes a lot of developers in the Piceance Basin near Rifle, which is kind of the heart of the area which is impacted by this decision. And he said in the short term this decision won’t have a significant impact on his members right away. That’s because this ruling applies to future leases." 

Stewart-Severy says these kinds of post-extraction impact requirements are now common in coal mining, where the social consequences of carbon have to be assessed.