By Shane Cross The oil and gas industry is hurting right now. Some folks are trying to kick it when it is down. At Trout Unlimited, we understand that many folks in the oil and gas industry are dedicated to the long-term vision of meeting energy needs and passing on a healthy and functioning landscape. While some see conservationists as being at odds with industry, that need not be the case. Some oil and gas companies have been working with groups like TU to develop partnerships which protect and enhance fish and wildlife habitat in areas near oil and gas development.
For TU, industry partnerships are common sense. Oil and gas will continue to be developed, and it can either be developed in ways that minimize and avoid impacts to trout, or not – our job is to ensure the former. Many of our members depend on the oil and gas industry for their livelihoods, and we recognize that energy development is an important component of the Western economy. TU and industry have worked together to plan development, protect and restore habitat, educate youth, and create responsible oil and gas policies.
Here's a look at some of the good conservation work the oil and gas industry has done with TU over the past few years.
Berry Petroleum, a subsidiary of Linn Energy, LLC, worked with TU to plan a well pad development near Lake Canyon Lake in the Strawberry River watershed in Utah. Lake Canyon Lake is a brood fishery for Colorado River cutthroat trout, and the local TU chapter had done extensive restoration and habitat work along the lake’s feeder stream.
To develop its pad, Berry needed approvals from Utah’s Division of Wildlife Resources and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Recognizing the importance of the lake and its fishery to local anglers, Berry Petroleum collaborated with TU before submitting its development proposal.
A happy angler with a Colorado River cutthroat trout caught at Lake Canyon Lake in Utah.
Specifically, Berry analyzed three different access routes to the pad, agreed to utilize a closed loop drilling system and pipeline infrastructure to minimize truck traffic, and maximized the distance between disturbed areas and the waterways. In addition, Berry Petroleum communicated with TU during the construction and reclamation phases – responding to local angler questions during those phases and reseeding a portion of the disturbed area along the lake. The collaborative effort has been beneficial – the Division of Wildlife has met its quota for trout eggs the past two years.
In Colorado, Gunnison Energy, LLC, has been proactive in working with TU and the local community to address concerns about energy development in the Thompson Divide.
The Thompson Divide lies between Mt. Sopris and Grand and Battlement Mesas. In 2013, Senator Michael Bennet introduced legislation, known as the Thompson Divide Withdrawal and Protection Act (TDWPA), that would create a market to buy out existing leases and protect unleased areas from future development. The Senator continues to work with TU and other stakeholders to develop new legislation that will permanently protect the area.
The Thompson Divide in Colorado.
Gunnison Energy holds leases on the south end of the Divide near cutthroat trout streams and popular elk hunting grounds. After numerous meetings with TU and the Thompson Divide Coalition, Gunnison Energy agreed to support new legislation that will protect the Divide with an adjusted boundary that allowed oil and gas development near existing pads. The compromise is an example of industry and conservation interests working together to achieve mutual goals.
Part of responsible development is the recognition that some places are just too sensitive and are not appropriate for development. In places like Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front, Questar donated leases to be permanently retired with the passage of legislation withdrawing the area from future leasing. Elsewhere in Montana, companies such as ConocoPhillips, Chevron and XTO Energy voluntarily relinquished more than 200,000 acres of leases in the North Fork of the Flathead River Valley, an area that was subsequently withdrawn from leasing with the passage of the widely supported, bipartisan North Fork Watershed Protection Act in 2014.
TU’s bread and butter is designing and implementing projects that restore and rehabilitate trout habitat on both public and private land. Recently, Shell Oil worked with TU in Routt County, Colorado, to promote watershed health by supporting two of TU’s projects on local streams. Shell Oil contributed financially to projects to re-grade and plant bank stabilizers on Milk Creek and Armstrong Creek, revitalizing and extending habitat for Colorado River cutthroat trout in the process. In addition, Shell Oil organized a volunteer day with TU for employees to participate by planting willows along Armstrong Creek. Both projects have proven successful and TU is working on additional projects and partners in the watershed.
TU’s Youth Education Program aims to promote awareness and interest in coldwater fisheries by creating opportunities for students to learn about and interact with aquatic systems and species in the classroom. Suncor has been a major contributor to Colorado TU’s Trout in the Classroom program in the Mapleton School District for the past two years. Through the program, students raised fertilized trout eggs into the fry stage and ultimately released them into the South Platte River.
Trout in the Classroom is often the first introduction to conservation for young students.
ConocoPhillips recently funded a similar program in Escalante High School in New Mexico that included coursework on water chemistry, stream ecology and geology to trout biology, trout behavior and the culture of the Rio Chama Valley. Both programs have been successful at engaging youth in watershed health and conservation. And both projects would not have been possible without key financial support provided by our oil and gas partners.
Against the backdrop of depressed oil and gas prices, it is more important than ever for industry and conservation groups to work together. The Colorado Oil and Gas Association has been working with TU for more than a year to develop pragmatic policy regarding oil and gas development near water resources.
Specifically, as a response to the Front Range Floods of 2013, COGA worked with TU to develop best management practices for oil and gas development in floodplains. Earlier this year, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission convened a rulemaking process to address development in floodplains. COGA and TU formed general agreement around many elements of the rule, which requires companies to anchor facilities, install remote “shut in” capabilities on new wells to minimize spills, and install steel ring or other deflectors to reduce under-cutting by floods. TU also recognized that the regulations would come at a cost to industry, and supported a compliance schedule that allowed companies additional time to bring their facilities under the new regulations. We look forward to continuing to work with oil and gas industry associations on policy measures in the future.
Conservation groups and the oil and gas industry – like most of society – will have both conflict and common ground. The conflict, it seems, is talked about more often than the cooperation. We’re here to tell you that dialogue – and collaboration – is occurring between industry and conservation groups and it will continue to occur to ensure that both energy development and fish and wildlife remain strong assets to Colorado’s future.
Shane Cross is Western energy counsel for TU’s Sportsmen’s Conservation Project