A BLM citizen advisory committee held its third of five meetings last week to determine if future oil and gas development in western La Plata and eastern Montezuma counties warrant additional regulations.
Because of public concerns, the BLM decided to investigate whether a master leasing plan was needed to further preserve popular recreation areas and cultural resources from energy development.
“We want to figure out if there are other issues not covered by the Resource Management Plan in place now,” said BLM manager Barbara Sharrow.
Within the proposed MLP boundary, there are 46,000 acres with federally controlled minerals. Of that, 31,000 acres are on BLM lands, and 15,000 acres are split-estate lands where the surface is private and the subsurface is federally owned. Private land with private minerals are not affected by the MLP plan.
The BLM areas within the MLP are near Hesperus, along the Mesa Verde escarpment, at the Phil’s World mountain bike area, at the Mud Springs trail network, on land south of Summit Reservoir and near Mancos, and split-estate lands south of Dolores.
BLM assistant field manager Justin Abernathy clarified the misconception that the proposed MLP plan potentially includes 3,000 new wells.
That figure, he said, is a reasonable foreseeable development forecast for the entire San Juan Planning Area, which includes the Tres Rios BLM area and the San Juan National Forest through 2024.
“It stretches from Archuleta County to the Utah border, an area of 3.5 million acres,” he said.
In 2006, Abernathy said, the development forecast for conventional oil and gas wells in the BLM and National Forest area was a maximum 1,200 wells over a 15 years. In 2009, the number was amended to accommodate the new Gothic shale gas play, and a maximum of 1,800 potential new wells were added.
BLM officials said there are no new wells permitted within their jurisdiction in the proposed MLP area. Also, controversial oil-and-gas leases proposed in the Hesperus area are under deferred status for now.
Some stipulations already regulate oil and gas development in the MLP area, such as no-surface occupancy, timing limitations and controlled surface uses.
An oil-and-gas lease is just the first step toward drilling, BLM officials said. Environmental analysis and mitigation is required during the application for a permit to drill at a specific location.
“I would like to see what oil-and-gas stipulations overlay the Phil’s World area so we can have a better understanding if the regulations are adequate or fall short,” said Pete Eschallier, a committee member from Montezuma County representing biking interests.
Industry representative Eric Sanford pointed out that the BLM and their proposed MLP area have no regulatory jurisdiction on private surface with private minerals. Those non-federal areas make up the majority of the proposed MLP area and are regulated by the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission and counties.
“If a bunch of gas was found on private land with private minerals every effort would be made to lease those private parcels to be developed and drilled,” Sanford said.
He noted that federal minerals can be accessed from private land, using horizontal drilling technology.
James Dietrich, a member of the BLM’s Resource Advisory Committee, said the industry trend locally is to drill on private surface because it is less regulatory.
Montezuma County committee member Dale Davidson suggested that a map exercise be organized and presented to the public at the next meeting.
“Our county commission had a very effective map exercise where the MLP area was subdivided. Each section’s current regulations were explained and discussed, and problems identified,” he said.
The next two meetings are scheduled for March 16. The first one will be from 10 a.m. to noon at the Montezuma County Annex. The second meeting will be from 6-8 p.m. at the Fort Lewis Mesa Elementary in Hesperus.
For more information on the MLP proposal, go to http://on.doi.gov/1OgXn2c