The BLM is planning to take a closer look at the future of oil and gas development in Montezuma and La Plata counties.
The Master Lease Plan will be drawn up for energy development on qualified BLM lands between Dolores and Durango. Interest from the public, including La Plata County, triggered the additional review, reported Connie Clementson, field manager for the BLM's Tres Rios Office.
"We're initiating a Master Lease Plan process to determine if this area warrants additional stipulations or strategies for future leasing," Clementson said during the Southwest Resource Advisory Council (RAC) meeting May 8 in Durango. "We want to capture areas of public concern on a finite geographic scale that is more site specific."
The new plan could tighten up oil-and-gas restrictions in the two-county area, and will be in addition to rules already outlined in the BLM's overall Resource Management Plan passed earlier this year.
Officials will study potential impacts more oil and gas development could have on BLM lands, wildlife, public recreation areas, air quality, and nearby Canyons of the Ancients National Monument and Mesa Verde National Park.
The draft planning area includes BLM land in Montezuma and La Plata counties.
Careful planning, or delay?
The BLM's decision to move towards developing a Master Lease Plan is getting mixed reviews.
During a public comment session at the RAC meeting, conservationists and recreationists praised the BLM for the additional scrutiny, and urged development controls.
"A master lease plan is extremely important to protect public lands," said Shelley Silbert, executive director for Great Old Broads for Wilderness. "Well pads and roads cause habitat fragmentation, and this plan gives us a chance for better planning and to say which areas need protection."
Jimbo Buickerood, of San Juan Citizens Alliance, commented that a closer look is warranted to avoid overdevelopment of oil and gas.
"To the south (in New Mexico) planning did not go so well, and I blame the Farmington BLM office. Rangeland has been degraded, air quality is degraded, and wildlife has been degraded," he said. "It is not anti oil and gas, it is more careful planning."
Eric Sanford, a RAC member representing oil and gas, opposed the additional planning, commenting that more regulations are redundant, cost the taxpayer, and cause further delays for new leases.
"It seems like another delay for the industry," Sanford said. "You say you do not know yet if it is necessary, yet the decision has been made to do it."
A previous BLM plan to lease an area in western La Plata county for oil and gas development drew opposition from environmentalists. The sale was deferred, and is on hold pending the results of the master lease plan.
Potential leases areas
Many BLM areas in both counties have already been excluded from oil and gas leasing, including Weber and Menefee Mountain Wilderness Study Areas south of Mancos.
BLM lands along the Mesa Verde escarpment in Montezuma County have a no-surface occupancy standard for oil-and-gas development due to cultural resources.
The Perins Peak, Animas City Mountain, and Lake Nighthorse areas near Durango are also withdrawn from mineral leasing.
Several BLM lands and subsurface federal minerals are potentially available for oil and gas development, including western La Plata county, subsurface minerals above Dolores, the Phils World mountain bike area, BLM land south of Summit Lake, and the Mud Springs area in McElmo Canyon.
At their Monday meeting, Montezuma County Commissioners said they want more coordination with the BLM on the lease plan.
"It effects more of our BLM lands, but it was never discussed directly with us," said commissioner Keenan Ertel. "Officials from La Plata county were involved who do not reside here."
Two or three meetings are being planned to gather community input on the impacts of future oil and gas leasing by the BLM in the area.