Oil and Gas Reclamation

A gas well on the Pawnee National Grasslands.

A gas well on the Pawnee National Grasslands.

Oil and gas exploration has exploded across eastern Colorado. Although energy development can fragment habitats or cause other environmental issues, sometimes drilling provides an opportunity to begin prairie restoration one small area at a time. Colorado law requires energy companies to reclaim the areas their operations affect by planting seeds that will grow to restore the area to. Current regulations only require seeding “consistent with adjacent areas,” which may not always mean native or ecologically beneficial plants. Additionally, the reclamation process does not always proceed promptly, despite the requirements to finish within one year. For example, The Denver Post recently reported that 72% of reclamation projects have been going on for more than five years. The Colorado Prairie Initiative has submitted a petition to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) for more stringent reclamation requirements than those currently in place to help give native prairies a stronger foothold back in eastern Colorado.

The petition focuses on making two major improvements to the current regulations. First, it would require energy companies to file a pre-drilling reclamation plan with the COGCC detailing their proposed steps for reclaiming the area. This will help prevent the sort of ongoing projects that have emerged in recent years.

Second, the petition would require the use of native plants or an ecologically acceptable substitute on non-crop lands. Most of the oil and gas exploration in eastern Colorado takes place on private lands, and the landowners have a right to use their land as they see fit after reclamation is finished. However, the Colorado Prairie Initiative believes it is important to protect the wildlife and plants that reside on those lands, which are held in trust for the public. Therefore, the petition requires the companies to use native plants, or find an acceptable substitute that is both ecologically beneficial and suitable to the landowners post-reclamation land uses.

The petition can be read here. The COGCC is currently accepting comments to be considered when the Commission votes on whether to proceed with the rule making process. Please consider sending a comment, the prairies need your support.