20 Jan CHC Settles Lawsuit After USFS Withdraws Drilling Approval
January 20, 2015 –
Gunnison County, CO – Conservationists have settled a lawsuit that challenged the U.S. Forest Service’s approval of a new natural gas drilling project in Colorado’s Gunnison National Forest without conducting the legally required analysis of environmental impacts. Following the conservation groups’ opening brief in the case, the Forest Service agreed to withdraw approval of the project.
The plan had approved five new gas wells to be drilled near Little Henderson Creek. An accident, spill, or chemical release would threaten to poison the creek, which flows into the North Fork of the Gunnison River. Conservationists filed the lawsuit because the Forest Service approved oil and gas development in the region in a piecemeal, project-by-project fashion without conducting a cumulative impacts analysis of all the approved drilling projects on the region’s water and air quality, wildlife, and down-river communities.
The settlement requires the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to conduct a joint environmental analysis of the drilling project and to make that analysis available to the public for review and input. This transparent process is necessary to ensure that oil and gas development in the North Fork Valley undergoes the legally required hard look, which would fully analyze impacts to the area’s air quality and other treasured resources, such as clean water for downstream communities and critical winter habitat for elk and mule deer.
“This is a win for good government and for good decision-making,” said Jim Ramey, Executive Director of Citizens for a Healthy Community. “We look forward to the Forest Service and the BLM doing the job right and fully considering the many impacts that would result from this proposed industrialization.”
“The Forest Service is required under federal law to look before it leaps, which it failed to do in this instance,” said Kyle Tisdel, attorney for the Western Environmental Law Center. “After twice approving this oil and gas project without considering the impacts to the area’s clean water and air, wildlife, and recreational values, I’m glad the Forest Service has recognized its fundamental role as stewards of our public lands and has committed to perform the type of hard look analysis that this treasured landscape deserves.”
“This settlement is an important step forward for protecting valuable resources in the North Fork―from robust big game species to the clean air and water that downstream communities depend on,” said Alli Melton, the Public Lands Director for High Country Conservation Advocates. “Moving forward, we expect analysis that fully discloses and analyzes all impacts that would stem from oil and gas development in this area of Gunnison County. If done properly, the outcome should result in a transparent agency decision-making process that is fully informed by public participation.”
The Western Environmental Law Center, on behalf of Citizens for a Healthy Community and High Country Conservation Advocates, filed the suit in U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado seeking to overturn the Forest Service’s decision authorizing the gas wells. The settlement was finalized late on Friday afternoon, January 16.