Vermillion Basin Protected from Future Oil and Gas Leasing

Jun 29, 2010

CRAIG, CO – The Bureau of Land Management’s Little Snake Field Office announced today that it will be closing Vermillion Basin to future oil and gas leasing. The decision comes as part of the ongoing revision of the BLM’s Resource Management Plan for the Little Snake Resource Area in Northwest Colorado. The importance of leaving Vermillion Basin untouched has been recognized by local citizens, conservation groups, Colorado leaders, and now, with today’s decision by the BLM, by the administration as well.

“Vermillion Basin’s immense beauty provides outstanding opportunities for solitude, recreation, and tranquility and it is rightly protected from drilling,” said Soren Jespersen, The Wilderness Society’s Northwest Colorado Wildlands Coordinator. “The BLM acknowledged the wilderness qualities of Vermillion Basin in its own review in 1998 and it is time to safeguard these exceptional values. But BLM’s decision to set aside this important area is just one aspect of a much larger final land management plan expected later this summer. We are hopeful that the final plan will restore some balance to an area that has been targeted by the oil and gas industry for years now.”

Analyses performed by The Wilderness Society show that Vermillion Basin contains less than 5% of the technically recoverable natural gas in the Little Snake Resource Area and just over 1% of the oil. Further, the lands in Vermillion Basin Proposed Wilderness Area contains only enough technically recoverable natural gas to supply U.S. energy needs for about 10 days, and less than 20 minutes’ worth of oil.

Vermillion Basin is an area of more than 80,000 acres defined by wide-open sagebrush vistas, multi-colored badlands, and narrow sandstone canyons. The region supports Northwest Colorado’s famous big game species, numerous rare plants, and some of Colorado’s most extensive, yet largely undocumented, collections of prehistoric and cultural relics.

“These lands are an important part of our history and culture,” said Sasha Nelson, Northwest Organizer for the Colorado Environmental Coalition. “Protecting them is an important first step towards ensuring that this piece of our natural heritage will be preserved for our children and grandchildren.”

The oil and gas industry activity has grown rapidly throughout the Western United States in the last decade. The Little Snake Field Office is currently revising its Resource Management Plan for the area, which would accommodate increased drilling in the more than 2.4 million acres of federal mineral estate it oversees.

“The 77,000 acres set aside by the BLM today represents only a tiny fraction of the nearly 2 million acres currently available for energy development in the Little Snake,” says Nada Culver, Senior Counsel for The Wilderness Society. “There are, and will continue to be, plenty of lands left to develop. Vermillion Basin as indispensable as it is, but will not make a real dent in our energy needs.”

“Risking destruction of these fragile lands just cannot be justified,” said Megan Mueller, Staff Biologist with Center for Native Ecosystems. “We have yet to see any proof that lands in this arid environment can be successfully reclaimed. The BLM’s decision will ensure that these lands are not turned over to the oil and gas industry and permanently degraded. Protecting these lands is a step in the right direction for conserving wildlife and plants in Northwest Colorado.”

In Colorado, nearly 5 million acres of federal mineral estate have been leased by oil and gas interests. Yet, nearly 70% remains undeveloped. And these trends reflect what is happening nationwide as well. As of 2009, more than 45 million acres of federal lands are under lease for oil and gas development, yet over 70% of those lands—more than 32 million acres—are not currently producing oil or gas.

“The oil and gas industry has leased more lands throughout the West than they know what to do with. We thank BLM for recognizing that,” said Jespersen. “There are some places that are too wild to drill—and Vermillion Basin is at the top of that list.”