Energy & Environment

BLM leadership expanded oil drilling in Colorado over local staff objections


The Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Washington office ignored the advice of its Colorado staff, deciding to expand oil and gas drilling in the southwest corner of the state because earlier plans were “not in line with the administration’s direction to decrease regulatory burden and increase access.”

BLM documents, obtained by environment watchdog Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), show tension between the agency’s regional staff and those who work in headquarters amid a push by the Trump administration to relocate almost all of BLM’s Washington-based staff out West so they will be closer to the lands that they manage.

Expanded oil and gas activity in Colorado was approved in July over objections from entities in the state, including from Gov. Jared Polis (D), who argued the plan would increase haze, interfere with protected wildlife and conflict with state laws on drilling.

Those plans departed from local and state authorities’ initial ones for more limited drilling in the area. 

Another document shows local BLM authorities “made changes to management actions, including reducing fluid mineral stipulations and restrictions, reducing rights-of-way restrictions, reducing areas managed as lands with wilderness characteristics, and reducing areas of environmental concern” to address concerns from BLM leadership.

“This decision is as high-handed as it is wrong-headed,” Chandra Rosenthal, Rocky Mountain PEER director, said in a statement. “Political appointees overriding the extensive cooperation and planning by their own experts is the exact opposite of the local decision-making they profess to embrace.”

BLM said the plan was “conducted lawfully and in compliance with current policy.”

“The BLM has many priorities, as outlined by the administration, that the agency is diligently working on for the betterment of the American people through broad public input and reliance on sound policy and good science,” BLM spokesman Derrick Henry said in an email to The Hill. 

Updated at 2:50 p.m.

Tags Jared Polis

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