Big Energy and wild horses

One of the most popular questions I receive is “Do you think big energy is impacting wild horses?”

The answer is “of course it is.”

On public land (for purposes of this piece we will discuss BLM, more public land than any other agency) we have “Multiple Use.” The term comes from the Federal Land Policy Management Act, or “FLPMA.” This policy outlines how land use plans are to be created to manage public land for the “public good.”

Western US HMA map (BLM)

These two videos (put out by the BLM and Department of Interior) illustrate just how quickly the “Industrialization” of the “Energy Frontier” is changing our western ranges. Contained in these videos are maps, that when you look at the HMA (Herd Management Area) maps, the areas almost fit in a direct overlay. It is very clear that the energy frontier has a significant impact on wild herds, as well as all other interests on western public land.

note in video above: map of geo-thermal at 2:49, map of solar at 3:02, map of wind at 4:02, transmission proposals at 4:22. Also note that in this video we see no wild horses.

This next video is “fast track” projects. This agenda was streamlined years ago. Two years ago we saw it begin with “lightening speed.”

note map of solar at 1:28, listen at 4:41 about coal leases, at 4:54 he talks about the onshore oil and gas lease sales, and again note no wild horses in the video.

These projects (on Federal Land) have been given special status and are exempt from many of the regular restrictions (more de-regulation has been proposed). However individual EA/EIS’s do come up for public input within BLM districts. Currently there is no way to access these documents through BLM National web that gives you any overview, nor is that capability available through state portals. In order to find them you must do a district by district search, search that districts site to locate the pending projects.

Wild horses and burros exist on proportionally small pockets of public land. Currently under BLM management the legal land for their occupancy is a bit over 11%. Compared to other uses that designation of acreage is small. The area designation is called a “Herd Management Area” or HMA. Within the HMA “multiple use” still applies and the actual resource allotment given to wild herds is minute.

Extractive or energy projects (may)  may not cross the boundary into an actual HMA, but impact is felt. Water consumption, infrastructure such as roads large enough for heavy truck traffic and pipelines for transport have significant impact.

Water consumption of any extractive proposal is a massive consideration. When you begin to understand how much water is used in the fracking projects, consider the number of uses on public land that depend on clean water, the potential impact is greater than any other. Wild horses exist in many arid states, including Nevada that has more than half our entire population of wild horses and burros, the potential impact is literally chilling. Drought is a reality in arid states. Droughts can occur in cycles that span several years. Water consumption for fracking will not diminish in those years creating a recipe for tragedy.

When you take into account all of the existing uses within HMA’s that are impacted by these projects, and factor in the potential impact on the wild horses that have a fractional use of resource, often the impacts are of extreme significance.

Lets look at one currently active area for incoming extractive leases and outgoing wild horses to illustrate:

This is the Piceance Basin. This discussion is about natural gas, not other projects.

Please note there is an active oil and gas EIS for Piceance Basin, with comments due by 12/14/2012)

Maps of the area and other open comments, for other projects in that area, can be found here:

Wild Horse areas included in the White River Field office (BLM map)


Here is an article Titled “Understanding the Geology of Piceance Basin Natural Gas

The first paragraph of the above linked piece by Richard Dayvault in July of 2011:

“We’ve all seen the large drilling rigs along the I-70 corridor from Parachute to Silt that have sprung up over the past eight years or so. Their presence is particularly striking when you’re driving at night. In case you didn’t already know, energy companies like EnCana, Williams Energy, Bill Barrett Corporation, ExxonMobil, and Chevron are drilling for natural gas — not oil. The existence of this large gas field has been known for more than 50 years, but the economics and technology that make this a viable resource are only recent developments. Demands for Rocky Mountain gas increased, in part, because of the brown-outs that California suffered in 2001.”

Map of oil and shale (

Now let’s look at a page titled “BLM on the Right Track with Piceance plan.”

In the right hand column of the page is a series of videos. I am going to imbed the first couple in order so that you can see the connection between them as simply as possible.

The first video is of the Piceance Roundup that took place in 2011. It is a BLM produced video.

The next video in this series is titled “Melanie Haynes Narration Voiceover-Chevron Piceance Basin Project. It is a corporate produced piece but if you watch it you can see the area and understand the project scope for extraction of natural gas.

The next video listed: “Oil Shale Development in the Piceance Basin: Why Coloradans are at risk.” Although wild horses are not specifically discussed if uses that rely on the environment like hunting and human drinking water are at risk, so are horses.

For those of you that feel a bit more adventurous the next video is about the process of identifying natural fractures in the area to increase production. The map at 0:29 is of use to illustrate the actual scope of the basin.

The next video in the series is a “pre-gather” video of the Piceance herd. You can go to the link and watch the videos of  “BLM on the right track for Piceance Basin” for more “food for thought.”

Just yesterday, 9/16/2012, BLM announced approval for a 95 mile pipeline to remove the natural gas from the Piceance Basin:

“The Bureau of Land Management recently approved a 95-mile pipeline in Western Colorado and eastern Utah. The natural gas pipeline will help move more natural gas liquids out of the Piceance Basin.”

Here is some information about the Piceance-East Douglas horses.

Press release dated 9/17/2012 on a removal operation for September, from BLM, states: “BLM signed a decision today to reduce the estimated population of 382 wild horses within the 190,000-acre Herd Management Area to 135.”

Release Date: 09/17/12 (Glitch ib BLM system and release went out last year, 2011)

contacts: David Boyd, Public Affairs Specialist, (970) 876-9008

Vanessa Delgado, Public Affairs Specialist, (303) 239-3681

BLM to gather Piceance-East Douglas wild horses in September

MEEKER, Colo. – The Bureau of Land Management is planning a wild horse gather next month to return the wild horse population southwest of Meeker to an appropriate level that keeps the horses and the range healthy.

“We are committed to maintaining a thriving natural ecological balance, which includes managing for a healthy wild horse herd in the White River Field Office that’s in balance with other uses,” said BLM White River Field Manager Kent Walter.

Beginning Sept. 20, BLM will gather wild horses within the Piceance-East Douglas Herd Management Area, which is a 190,000-acre area optimal for wild horses which BLM manages for a healthy wild horse herd that is in balance with other resources and uses. The gather will be completed by Sept. 30.

“Wild horses are not native wildlife and have no effective natural predators, so these gathers are needed periodically to keep the wild horse herd at a level that the range can sustain,” Walter said. “Since 1980, we have gathered wild horses within this area more than a dozen times, which has kept this wild horse herd and the range healthy.”

The appropriate management level identified for the population in this Herd Management Area is a range of 135 to 235 wild horses. Wild horse populations grow about 20 percent annually, typically doubling in about four years if unchecked.

BLM signed a decision today to reduce the estimated population of 382 wild horses within the 190,000-acre Herd Management Area to 135. To help reduce the growth rate of the herd, mares released back on to the range will be given a treatment that delays fertility, and BLM will adjust sex ratios of the herd to 60 percent studs and 40 percent mares. This should help decrease the frequency the area needs to be gathered.

Additionally, the estimated 78 wild horses that have moved outside the boundaries of the Herd Management Area and are east of State Highway 139 will be gathered and removed. Last October BLM gathered and removed 73 wild horses from outside of the Herd Management Area. Wild horses to the west of State Highway 139 in an area called the West Douglas Herd Area will not be gathered this year.

Wild horses removed will be taken to BLM’s wild horse facility in Canon City. The majority will be available for adoption. The wild horses not adopted will be placed in long-term pastures.

More information is available at, or by contacting the White River Field Office, (970) 878-3800.

Under the authority of the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, BLM manages, protects, and controls wild horses and burros as part of its overall multiple-use mission.

BLM encourages those who are interested in providing good homes to wild horses or burros to visit for information about adoptions or sales.

NOTE: ( A removal took place in 2011, see Final EA here)

If you can view public land management as a web the intricacies become easier to visualize. Each strand effects the next.

So the answer to the question “Does Big Energy effect wild horses?” is absolutely. But keeping track of just what strand will break and effect the next, as the ability to simply track projects that are active, is very difficult.