Protect the White River from Oil and Gas Development!

Today’s guest blog about the #7 White River, Colorado- a part of our America’s Most Endangered Rivers® series- is from Neil Shader with The Wilderness Society. With a mission to protect wilderness and inspire Americans to care for our wild places, The Wilderness Society has led the effort to permanently protect nearly 110 million acres of wilderness in 44 states.

White River, CO | © DaylilyFan

Ask Secretary Jewell to protect the White River, Colorado, from irresponsible energy development | © DaylilyFan

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The White River Basin in northwest Colorado, just south of Dinosaur National Monument, is a place that has already been identified as “too wild to drill.” Now, thanks to the continuing threat of oil and gas drilling in the area, it’s made another list— one of America’s Most Endangered Rivers®.

Oil and gas wells already dot many of the hills and valleys along the White River. But there could be thousands more coming if the Bureau of Land Management follows through on some of their plans. More than 15,000 additional wells have been proposed for the area— threatening wilderness-quality landscapes and wildlife habitat.

The foothills along the southern bank of the White River between Meeker and Rangely, Colorado, host thousands of acres of “lands with wilderness characteristics”— some of the best unprotected wild lands in America. Places like Lower Wolf Creek, Boise Creek, and Hammond Draw are also home to mule deer that migrate into the area in the summer and during especially harsh winters. Greater sage grouse also find refuge in the sagebrush sea that follows the river. Adding 15,000 more oil and gas wells to the area threaten these iconic western species and the wild lands that they live on.

And if a single well pad covers an acre of land, that means 15,000 acres of lost habitat alone— not counting the maze of roads, pipelines, and electric lines that will crisscross the area and further tear apart these wilderness-quality lands. 

Rather than simply adopting the “add 15,000 more oil and gas wells” idea, the BLM is also looking doing what is called a “Master Leasing Plan” for the area around the White River. Created with input from local communities, conservation groups, and other experts on wildlife and wilderness, a Master Leasing Plan would direct oil and gas development away from the most sensitive areas of the White River basin.

Currently, a Master Leasing Plan has been proposed for the area, known as the Dinosaur Trails area. This Plan would add Backcountry Conservation Area status to many of the wilderness-quality lands, keeping them off-limits to oil and gas drilling, and helping keep them open for recreation like hiking and backpacking. This type of outdoor recreation is vital to the area, with more than 192,000 visitors annually who spend more than $6.7 million supporting local, sustainable jobs.

The BLM should release the Dinosaur Trails Master Leasing Plan in 2014— hopefully soon. In the meantime, leasing in and around the White River should be curtailed until the MLP is finished, so that wild areas like Blair Mountain, Wolf Creek, and other lands with wilderness characteristics aren’t degraded or destroyed. With a well-thought-out Master Leasing Plan, the BLM can find a balance between conservation and energy that doesn’t involve putting wells all over the entire White River Basin.

Please join us in asking the BLM to ensure that their management of oil and gas development in the White River Basin achieves balance and truly manages for multiple-uses, not just resource extraction!