Colorado has challenged the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) resource management plan (RMP) for the oil- and gas-rich portions of the Western Slope, alleging it doesn't go far enough to protect the environment and local wildlife, including the sage grouse.

The state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) submitted a formal protest letter on Monday regarding the BLM Uncompahgre Field Office's RMP covering six counties (Mesa, Delta, Montrose, Gunnison, Ouray, and San Miguel).

DNR Executive Director Dan Gibbs told BLM that the state wants the Uncompahgre plan to assess impacts on big game habitat, wildlife corridors and protection of the Gunnison sage grouse. "We are concerned that the BLM plan does not adequately protect important wildlife corridors nor safeguard the Gunnison sage grouse," Gibbs said.

Gibbs said the state plans to provide additional comments in an upcoming "consistency review" to ensure the federal plan comports with state policy and plans. Colorado has until Aug. 28 to complete that review.

Noting that the final BLM plan "diverged significantly" from earlier alternatives considered at the Uncompahgre field office, Gibbs' letter cited a lack of time for cooperating agencies like his to evaluate the final plan, which is why it made further recommendations in Monday's protest letter.

However, two industry representatives from the Western Energy Alliance (WEA) and the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association (WSCOGA) questioned the protest focused on sage grouse since the state had an extensive stakeholder process to develop its plan that included local government input from along the West Slope.

Noting that the RMP has been in development for nearly a decade, WEA President Kathleen Sgamma criticized new Gov. Jared Polis for ignoring eight years of work by the previous governor's state administration. Sgamma accused environmental groups of spinning a negative narrative because the plan is being finalized in the Trump administration.

"The amount of acreage open to oil and natural gas in the final plan differs from the Obama administration plan released in October 2016 by 6,000 acres," she said. "The reality is that no new acreage has been opened up to oil and natural gas development than under the plans in effect in 2010, but many more restrictions have been applied to protect wildlife, air quality, the land and other natural resource values."

WSCOGA Executive Director Eric Carlson added that “this administration has placed a priority to listen to local governments, and this protest appears to ignore local governments' input and raises new questions regarding its intentions toward federal land management." 

Generally, the BLM and state DNR have "worked directly" in developing regional resource plans, including complete environmental assessments, Carlson told NGI's Shale Daily. In addition to the ongoing working relationships, the state has provided additional review and input before RMPs are approved.

Carlson said the process is "robust" for permitting and inspections of operators' drill sites, and the exploration and production companies work directly with BLM and DNR "to assure that gas development addresses any regulatory concerns."

An updated memorandum of understanding between DNR and both BLM and the U.S. Forest Service was signed and extended for the future. "The document lays out a framework of cooperation regarding oil and gas development on federal lands in Colorado," Carlson said.