Colorado News Connection

November 28, 2017Available files: mp3 wav jpg

Interior's Sage Grouse Plans Could Benefit Energy Companies, Critics Say

Eric Galatas

Correction: Jayson O'Neill is with the Western Values Project. (10:15 am MST, 11/28/2017)

DENVER - As the deadline for public comments on the BLM's decision to consider modifying sage grouse habitat management plans draws near, a conservation watchdog group has identified ten oil and gas companies that stand to directly benefit.

Jayson O'Neill, the deputy director of the Western Values Project, says half the companies that could see relaxed drilling rules on existing leases are members of the Western Energy Alliance, including Anadarko and Exxon Mobil.

"And they're directly related to the lobby group that has actively pursued these wholesale changes to sage-grouse management plans and the habitat in which they live," he notes.

More than six million acres of oil and gas leases in sage-grouse habitat are currently designated with heightened protections. O'Neill says the BLM's proposed changes are essentially a carbon copy of requests made in a leaked WEA letter to the Department of Interior. A spokesperson for the Interior Department said a number of stakeholders, including representatives from sage-grouse states across party lines, had an opportunity to weigh in on the agency's decision.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decided not to list the greater sage grouse as an endangered species, even though the bird's population has declined by nearly 95 percent from historic numbers.

O'Neill says if the BLM removes protections, decades of work from stakeholders across eleven western states could be lost. He believes the current land-management plans should be given a chance to work.

"And that benefits not only industry, to give them predictability, but it also gave public land users an opportunity to use those lands as well and not risk what would be devastating to these rural economies - a sage grouse endangered-species listing," he adds.

O'Neill says an official listing could put the viability of ranching, outdoor recreation, energy development and other uses on some 50 million acres across the West in question. The open comment period on habitat plans ends this Friday, December 1.