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Colorado Wildlife Commissioners Authorize Drilling in State Park

Kirk Siegler
A drilling rig near Longmont, Colo.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife commissioners have voted unanimously to authorize limited oil and gas development within a state park east of Longmont.  The decision giving the initial go ahead to Anadarko Petroleum’s controversial proposal at St. Vrain State Park follows nearly a year of review.

Anadarko has proposed drilling seven horizontal wells from a single well pad at St. Vrain. The Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission has a seat at the table because the division owns some of the mineral rights beneath the park.  The vote to authorize drilling means that state wildlife managers will broker a mitigation plan with the company.

The park is an important nesting ground for birds, and Commissioner Dorothea Farris says any drilling proposal will come with a stringent set of environmental stipulations and baseline groundwater monitoring.

"And it needs to be ongoing and it needs to be done before any activity occurs," Farris says.

St. Vrain is the only state park where wildlife managers own some mineral rights and officials insist that Thursday’s vote doesn’t set a precedent for drilling in other parks or sensitive wildlife areas. 

Rick Cables, the former regional forester for the USFS who now heads the newly merged Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife, says it was the best option the commission had.

"We believe that by actually having the drill pad just inside the state park boundary in an area far away from recreation use that we can actually have more control over the environmental effects than we would if the well pad were built across the road on land that we have no influence over," Cables told KUNC after the Denver meeting.

St. Vrain could be seen as an island around what has been extensive oil and gas drilling in recent months as companies are eager to get a piece of the Niobrara shale. 

Greeley-based Mineral Resources Incorporated this week also approached the commission with a separate proposal to drill within the park, but that hasn’t yet been considered.

Kirk Siegler reports for NPR, based out of NPR West in California.
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