An advisory group to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is blasting plans to prohibit natural gas and oil drilling in the Vermillion Basin northwest of Craig, CO.

The Northwest Resource Advisory Council called on BLM not to issue a final decision that would reverse earlier approvals to allow drilling there. Prohibiting future drilling ignores BLM's previous preference for a locally generated compromise to allow drilling that disturbs only 1% of the basin at a time, the council noted.

Earlier this month BLM issued a proposed Resource Management Plan (RMP) and final environmental impact statement for the Little Snake Field Office in Craig, which when implemented would guide federal leasing decisions for almost 20 years (see Daily GPI, Aug. 18; July 1). Among other things the RMP would close the basin to future energy development. A protest period is scheduled to end Sept. 13.

"If BLM's decision to not allow 1% drilling in Vermillion Basin is allowed to stand, it undermines any value in the collaborative process," the council stated in a letter to BLM. The council is represented by local governments and the energy and ranching industries, as well as environmental, recreational, historical and archaeological interests.

A BLM spokesman said he was unsure how much weight the protest would carry in the final decision on the RMP. The council indicated that its letter was not intended to be a formal protest to the proposed plan.

Council Chairman Patrick Kennedy said his concern is BLM's apparent disregard for the public's input in helping to make decisions.

Energy industry interests, however, are hoping that the council's protest is heard. The letter "showed top-down Washington decrees have no place in northwestern Colorado, and that seven years of science, seven years of planning and seven years of compromise are worth fighting to preserve," said David Ludlam of the West Slope Colorado Oil & Gas Association.

The 1% drilling proposal had emerged as a compromise approach during a community stakeholder process, but Steve Smith, a council member who represents the Wilderness Society, said no final agreement had ever been reached on how the basin should be managed. There's "no need to rush to get into leasing in places that are as remarkable as the Vermillion Basin" when there are other energy resources to be developed, Smith said.

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