Environmentalists: Drilling harms state’s endangered species

DENVER – The greater sage-grouse and whooping crane made a “Top 10” list of wildlife most at risk in the nation because of natural-gas and oil development. However, that’s not the end of the story for them or the industry.

Duane Short, Biodiversity Conservation Alliance wild-species program director, says the listing, in a report issued the Endangered Species Coalition, a coalition of seven environmentalist groups, should help provide focus.

“Part of the solution is when we know what the science is, allow that science to guide the actions on the ground,” Short said.

Sage-grouse behavior and range has long been studied, Short says. Natural-gas and oil drillers can use technology to minimize their footprint in those areas with methods such as directional drilling, he said. Several companies already do it, while others cite costs or possible loss of production volume.

Colorado leads the region in well starts, according to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, with 608 wells started in the first quarter of 2011 alone – more than Wyoming, Utah and Montana combined.

Wildlife biologist Jan Randall, a professor emeritus of biology at San Francisco State University who is on the scientific advisory board that selected the 10 species, says their demise is being driven by a “drill, baby, drill” attitude.

“So, the oil companies are just making a ton of money, and the environment is suffering the cost. It’s huge,” Randall said.

While natural-gas and oil production are important to the mountain West, Short says, making sure no more species end up on the endangered list is in everyone’s best interest.

“The crux of the matter is not stopping everything, but doing what we’re doing in a more responsible way – taking into account the environmental impacts.”