DURANGO, Colo. — The Colorado Division of Wildlife and BP America Production Company have agreed to an innovative wildlife conservation agreement that will help to mitigate the effects of natural gas drilling on wildlife in southwest Colorado.
The primary goal of the mitigation plan is to offset the direct habitat loss from BP’s natural gas development, taking into account both the quantity and functional value of habitats at drilling locations. This will be accomplished by limiting additional habitat loss in key areas and preserving habitat conditions as necessary to support existing wildlife populations.
“The agreement shows that it is possible to develop natural gas resources and preserve Colorado’s wildlife.” said Division of Wildlife Director Tom Remington. “This is an ideal model for planning natural resource development and conservation on a landscape scale.”
The plan is the culmination of an 18-month collaborative effort by BP, the Division of Wildlife, and The Nature Conservancy. Mitigation will occur in La Plata and Archuleta counties.
“We are proud to enter into a plan that not only incorporates operational changes but also provides actual land preservation,” said Jerry Austin, San Juan Area Operations Manager for BP. “This collaborative effort allows for more long-term development planning and wildlife preservation that is designed and customized specifically for the San Juan Basin.”
Joe Kiesecker, lead scientist with the Nature Conservancy, also praised the agreement.
“Proactive planning helps reduce conflicts between development and wildlife conservation,” Kiesecker said. “This is a positive step and these types of plans should be adopted as standard instead of as a novel approach. By identifying conflicts between conservation and development early, we can provide effective, balanced options.”
The plan also allows for a streamlined permitting process under a Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission rule. The rule 1202(d) allows energy companies to enter into wildlife mitigation plans with the Division of Wildlife to address multiple facilities simultaneously rather than having to address each facility one at a time.
“This plan is unique in that it allows for mitigation banking to address future impacts from development, and focuses mitigation efforts on habitat protection to offset impacts to wildlife,” said Tom Spezze, southwest regional manager for the Division.
Jon Holst, the Division’s energy liaison in southwest Colorado, said that the BP wildlife mitigation plan went through a rigorous development process.
“We’ve used the best available science to identify impacted species and priority mitigation areas,” explained Holst, who was the primary author. “This plan will provide the joint BP-Division of Wildlife implementation team everything it needs to ensure that the best quality wildlife habitats are adequately protected as development proceeds.”
BP will also contribute $475,000 over the next six years to be used for various studies that will evaluate the effects of natural gas development on wildlife in the San Juan Basin. Research projects will be developed jointly by BP and the Division of Wildlife.
In addition, BP will continue to apply “best management practices” at all of its facilities to minimize on-site wildlife impacts. Those include:
— Automating well operations so that vehicle traffic to well-pad sites is minimized;
— Use of water gathering systems that pipe waste water away from drilling sites;
— Utilizing a closed-loop drilling system which stores drilling waste in a storage area instead of the traditional open pit in which animals can become trapped;
— Drilling multiple wells from one well-pad site when possible;
— Use of reclamation seed mixes that are wildlife-friendly, and others.
During the past two years, the Division worked with oil and gas operators to negotiate 11 wildlife mitigation plans in western Colorado’s Piceance Basin. This is the first wildlife mitigation plan in the San Juan Basin.
Specifically, the plan addresses wildlife impacts to 68 proposed well locations and ancillary facilities such as roads, pipelines and pumping facilities. BP anticipates those wells will be developed in the next few years.
In October of 2008, BP and the Division began discussing options for BP’s planned development in the San Juan Basin. In May of 2009, an agreement was reached between BP and The Nature Conservancy to assist in the analysis of the species and habitats in the two southwest Colorado counties that would be impacted by natural gas development activities. The Nature Conservancy utilized its “Development-By-Design” landscape modeling technique in conjunction with work conducted by the Division of Wildlife to identify the most suitable sites for mitigating habitat loss from development. Input was also solicited from La Plata and Archuleta counties, the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Army Corps of Engineers. The outcome is an inventory of targeted, high-quality habitat that has been identified for long-term preservation.
The evaluation process studied native plant and animal species most impacted by drilling activity. More than 20 animal and plant species were identified that are directly affected by drilling activity and that will benefit most from mitigation. Using The Nature Conservancy’s landscape modeling expertise, the Division of Wildlife eventually selected 11 high-priority areas where mitigation work will be concentrated.
In the San Juan Basin, the availability of winter forage is considered a limiting factor for big game, and the availability and continuity of undeveloped riparian habitats year-round is considered a limiting factor for many of the other targeted species.
An implementation team comprised of representatives from BP and the Division will work together to evaluate impacts and pick mitigation sites.
Under the agreement, impacted habitat will not necessarily be replaced on just an acre-for-acre basis. Rather, both the quantity and function of impacted habitats will be considered. For example, if 100 acres of extremely high quality habitat is directly impacted by drilling activity, the habitat evaluation process outlined in the plan might determine that 160 acres containing a mix of sage brush, wetland areas and riparian habitat are needed as a mitigation site to offset impacts.
Overall, the plan sets in place guidelines that will help wildlife for many years while still providing for responsible development of natural gas in this highly productive basin.
“This is a long-term commitment by BP and the Division of Wildlife and it will have long ranging effects for the important wildlife resources in the San Juan Basin,” Spezze said.
Julia Levy, BP Government and Public Affairs, Durango, (970)247-6817
Scott Anderson, The Nature Conservancy, (703)841-8779
Joe Lewandowski, PIO southwest region
Contact Phone: (970)375-6708