Collaboration may help wildlife

BP, Division of Wildlife sign first-of-its-kind agreement

The Colorado Division of Wildlife and BP America Production Co. have signed the first-ever agreement to collaborate in lessening the impacts of natural-gas drilling on wildlife.

Under the agreement – 18 months in the making – BP will purchase private holdings suitable as wildlife habitat in exchange for drilling rights elsewhere.

The agreement was signed earlier this spring, DOW spokesman Joe Lewandowski said Thursday. A computer model provided by The Nature Conservancy helped BP identify potential wildlife habitat, Lewandowski said.

The agreement applies largely to La Plata and Archuleta counties, Lewandowski said. A number of potential sites have been selected.

DOW conversations with landowners and the La Plata Open Space Conservancy indicate there is adequate private land to meet habitat needs, Lewandowski said. No property condemnation will be involved, and only willing sellers will be sought out.

Wildlife habitat that would be impacted by drilling for natural gas will not be replaced on an acre-for-acre basis, Lewandowski said.

Rather, the quantity and function of impacted habitat will be considered, Lewandowski said. As an example, he said, 100 acres of extremely high-quality habitat could command 160 acres of property in exchange.

The evaluation process studied more than 20 plant and animal species most impacted by drilling, Lewandowski said. Using The Nature Conservancy’s computerized landscape modeling, the DOW chose 11 areas where drilling mitigation will be concentrated.

Agreements will benefit big game, small mammals and bird and aquatic species, Lewandowski said.

The agreement also streamlines the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission permitting process.

Commission rule 1202(d) allows energy companies to sign agreements with the DOW to address many drilling sites at one time instead of piecemeal.

DOW director Tom Remington said in a statement: “The agreement shows it is possible to develop natural-gas resources and preserve Colorado wildlife.”

Jerry Austin, the San Juan Area operations manager for BP, said the agreement allows more long-term planning and wildlife preservation designed specifically for the San Juan Basin.

Joe Kiesecker, lead scientist for The Nature Conservancy, also praised the agreement.

“Proactive planning helps reduce conflicts between development and wildlife conservation,” Kiesecker said.

Jon Holst, the DOW energy liaison in Southwest Colorado and the primary author of the agreement, said the best science available was used to identify impacted species and priority mitigation areas.

daler@durangoherald.com