Should there be more specific planning for local oil and gas development managed by the Bureau of Land Management?
So-called master lease plans target areas needing additional management to mitigate impacts industry may have on recreation, cultural resources, and natural qualities of private and public lands.
The BLM’s Tres Rios office is considering one for federal fluid minerals within western La Plata County and eastern Montezuma County. It would be in addition to the Resource Management Plan already in place for the region.
The first of five public meetings was held recently by a special group of residents formed by the BLM to gather information and local input on the idea of a master lease plan.
The 17-member panel represents industry, recreation, conservation, and local government, and are part of a subgroup of the Southwest Resource Advisory Council, which informs the BLM on public concerns.
“Our job is to gather information and come up with a common-sense approach,” said Ernie Williams, a committee member and Dolores County commissioner. “We all need oil-and-gas, but (development) in some areas are questionable. We don’t want drilling in our favorite elk spot.”
Other areas within the proposed MLP area that potentially conflict with oil and gas development are the Phil’s World mountain bike park, the Mesa Verde escarpment, land south of Summit Reservoir, land south of Dolores, land outside the northern and southern boundaries of the Weber and Menefee mountains Wilderness Study Areas, a BLM recreation area west of Mancos, and areas east of Mesa Verde National Park and around Hesperus in La Plata County.
Wilderness study areas ban drilling.
BLM field manager Connie Clementson noted that areas where drilling leases could be made available in the proposed master lease plan area already have been decided in the BLM’s Resource Management Plan.
“The allocation on what is available for lease, and not available for lease has already been decided in the RMP,” Clementson said. “Decisions that can be made through an MLP are what additional stipulations might be needed based on issues.”
Nearly 40 people attended the first meeting in Dolores, and all 12 who gave public testimony either expressed concerns with industry impacts, or spoke in favor of a master lease plan going forward.
“I urge you to consider that an MLP is the right thing to do,” said Montezuma County resident MB McAfee. “The resource management plan (in place) denotes a general look at the area. A master lease plan is more optimum, and is what is needed to make the best decisions about our small area of public lands.”
On a mesa above Dolores, federal minerals lie beneath private land, known as split estate, which could be leased by the BLM to oil companies for development.
Dolores resident Marianne Mate expressed concerns about the risk drilling could have on the nearby Dolores River.
“Contamination hazards to the river and air quality damage concerns me, the amount of water drilling requires concerns me, plus leases can go on for 30 years,” she said.
Local resident Ellen Foster suggested the proposed MLP boundary be expanded to include all of Montezuma County to better protect landowners.
“As seen in Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, when rules become more strict, exploration and production moves to private land with split estate minerals along the edge of the monument,” Foster commented. “The result is Pleasant View has become an industrial zone.”
Stan Mattingly, a resident of Cedar Mesa subdivision across from Mesa Verde National Park, reminded the panel to consider impacts of oil-and-gas development on adjacent neighborhoods.
Vanessa Mazal, of the National Park Conservation Association, urged measures to protect cultural resources and night skies near Mesa Verde National Park and Yucca House National Monument.
Ann Greenberg, of Durango, said she and her neighbors are concerned about protecting domestic water wells from impacts of oil-and-gas development and increased truck traffic.
Diane Wren, co-owner of Osprey Packs based in Cortez, said protecting recreation areas on public lands from the impacts of oil-and-gas fields is critical to the business.
“Economies of the West were defined by the boom and bust cycle of oil-and-gas, but times have changed,” she said. “Our economies have diversified — tourism and outdoor recreation have brought income, jobs, and stability. Risks to public lands threaten companies like Osprey that depend on them to maintain a market for outdoor retail products we design and manufacture.”
The next four meetings will be held in Cortez, Mancos, Hesperus, and Durango, with the next one likely in January. At the end of the process, recommendations by the panel will be made to the BLM to either go forward with drafting a master lease plan, abandon the idea, or adjust the boundaries of the proposed MLP area.