The Bureau of Land Management decided in October to move forward with development of a master lease plan to further regulate oil and gas development in Montezuma and La Plata counties.
But the decision by the local Tres Rios field office and state BLM director is still waiting final concurrence from the Washington BLM office before the planning process can begin.
Now some are wondering whether the recent election of Republican President-elect Donald Trump and majority Republican Congress could put the MLP in doubt. Trump has promised to lift restrictions on energy development.
It’s anyone’s guess, according to BLM spokeswoman Shannon Borders.
“We don’t have an indication one way or another,” she said. “The decision could come before the new leadership is in place or after.”
Final concurrence is made by Mike Nedd, the assistant director of energy minerals and realty management at the BLM Washington office, Borders said.
Master lease plans are amendments to Resource Management Plans, and are implemented to mitigate energy development on specific areas of public lands with significant recreation, cultural or natural values. MLPs were introduced by a BLM Instruction Memorandum in 2010, and sent out to all field offices as part of an oil-and-gas leasing reform effort.
The local BLM approval for the MLP followed two years of sometimes heated public meetings on whether an additional management plan for energy development was needed on local BLM lands.
BLM Tres Rios Field Manager Connie Clementson expects it to go forward.
“MLPs are an appropriate tool for the BLM and there is no indication that is going away,” she said.
Support for MLP by conservation local and national conservation groups outweighed opposition, which mostly came from the Montezuma County commission and the oil and gas industry who felt the current regulations were sufficient.
Christi Zeller, of the La Plata Energy Development Council, opposed additional regulations, but wasn’t ready to speculate on the fate of the MLP citing the unpredictable climate of current Washington politics.
“Maybe we can do what is right for Americans and allow leases to get issued, and open up lands for drilling,” she offered. “A lot of taxpayer money has already been spent on the BLM management plan in place now.”
Jimbo Buickerood, of the conservation group San Juan Citizen’s Alliance, is confident the MLP will receive Washington BLM concurrence and go forward.
He said MLPs are a common management tool that have been around since 2010, and are part of the BLM’s energy leasing handbook.
“I don’t see this on the political stage at all,” he said. “The state has recommended it to the national office who are just super busy right now” due to the pending administration transition.
Montezuma County commissioner Larry Don Suckla said that right now “it is hard to say” whether stopping the MLP is possible. He said the county prefers amending current BLM regulations to add a no-surface occupancy zone for oil and gas development on the popular Phil’s World mountain bike trail system.
“At this point, we don’t even know what the final size of the MLP would be, which is information we feel like should have been provided by now,” Suckla said.
Within the proposed MLP boundary, there are 46,000 acres with federally controlled minerals. Of that, 31,000 acres are on BLM lands mostly in Montezuma Count, 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.
It’s remotely possible that a new administration could derail the proposed master lease plans, said Nada Culver, an attorney for the Wilderness Society, who has worked on several MLPs. But doing so would be a “disservice to the local BLM and community that did the hard work and analysis.”
A new BLM director could overturn a 2010 memorandum adding MLPs to the BLM management options, she said, but any changes would take time to filter down to local agencies.
“The fact is, new leadership does not change the needs on the ground such as protecting Phil’s World from energy development, which is what an MLP is set up to do,” she said.