Green groups appeal ruling greenlighting drilling in pristine HD Mountains

The environmental law firm Earthjustice Tuesday challenged a May court ruling in favor of the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management that would allow dozens of natural gas wells in the HD Mountains between Durango and Pagosa Springs in Southwest Colorado.

Representing the San Juan Citizens Alliance, Oil and Gas Accountability Project, Colorado Environmental Coalition, Colorado Wild, The Wilderness Society and area landowners, farmers and sportsmen, Earthjustice appealed a district court ruling clearing the way for gas drilling in the San Juan National Forest.

“The HD Mountains are the last tiny, little corner of the San Juan Basin not yet drilled for natural gas development,” Jim Fitzgerald, who farms on 380 acres near the HD Mountains, said in a release. “This whole area depends on the HD Mountains watersheds. Drilling could have disastrous effects upon them.”

The coalition of environmental groups claims the federal agencies approved the drilling plan in 2004 even though it violates guidelines in the San Juan National Forest Plan aimed at preserving wildlife habitat, riparian areas and old-growth forest. And the groups argue the agencies also violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by inadequately evaluating the full environmental impacts of drilling in the area.

“The HD Mountains are a main migration corridor for elk and deer, one of the few that remain intact,” hunting outfitter Mike Murphy said in a release. “Drilling operations and roads will unquestionably fragment their habitat, disrupt their migration and scatter the herds.”

More than 70,000 critical comments were received by the BLM and USFS on this plan in 2004, and five local governments passed resolutions in favor of roadless area protection. The drilling plan would require 11 miles of new roads.

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