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NatGas/Oil Wells Put Colorado's White River on 'Most Endangered' List

Drilling for natural gas and oil in northern Colorado has American Rivers calling the state's White River one of the most endangered rivers in the United States.

"15,000 proposed new oil and gas wells in the region threaten to ruin clean drinking water and fish and wildlife habitat," the environmental group said in its most recent America's Ten Most Endangered Rivers report. The White River, which was listed as the seventh most endangered waterway in the report, was also the only river to make the 2014 list based on natural gas and oil development.

But such a designation is hardly a death-knell for rivers or the energy companies working near them. In 2011, American Rivers said the most endangered waterway in the country was the Susquehanna River, whose watershed is fed by a huge area covering much of Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale (see Shale Daily, May 18, 2011). Drilling in that area has ballooned since then, but the Susquehanna hasn't shown up on the American Rivers report again. Last year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency declined to list a 100-mile section of the main stem of the Susquehanna River as an impaired waterway (see Shale Daily, May 14, 2013).

In 2012, the Hoback River in Wyoming and the Grand River in Ohio both made the list due to nearby natural gas development, but they also only made one-time appearances in the American Rivers report. The group's 2013 list included no rivers that the group considered endangered by natural gas or oil development.

Two producers in the Thompson Divide area of Colorado, where the Mancos Shale lies, recently received a two-year extension of their natural gas leases to allow time for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to conduct an unprecedented post-leasing environmental review of a broader region (see Shale Daily, April 3). The BLM suspension essentially keeps the leases alive, but inactive, until April 1, 2016 while the agency does a second-bite-at-the-apple environmental assessment of 65 leases in the White River National Forest. Colorado's two U.S. senators have proposed legislation to have leases in the Thompson Divide withdrawn by eliminating future leases and buying back existing ones.

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