An oil and gas lease sale that includes 80 acres in southwestern La Plata County is on track for March, according to the Bureau of Land Management.
In June, the BLM announced two parcels in the county would be up for an oil and gas lease sale: a 40-acre tract just south of the Shenandoah subdivision on BLM land and an 80-acre tract on private property off County Road 120.
News of the lease sale drew sharp criticism from residents in Shenandoah, a luxury home neighborhood eight miles southwest of Durango, who said the development of oil and gas would bring unwanted impacts.
In October, the BLM said it reached out to the oil and gas operator that nominated the parcel for a lease sale in 2011. The company told the BLM it no longer had interest in developing the area for energy extraction.
As a result, the BLM pulled the parcel. The tract near County Road 120, in an area known locally as Hay Gulch, however, was still included in the BLM’s sale scheduled for March 8.
A public comment period that ran from Sept. 7 to Oct. 10 sparked ire from the offset, as residents in both Shenandoah and County Road 120 said they were not properly notified of the sale or the opportunity to comment.
The BLM recently released a summary of the public comments it received in relation to the oil and gas lease sale. The agency does not release individual comments, including only comments it deems “substantive.”
Ryan Joyner, planner for the BLM, said there were a handful of comments from residents in the county that expressed a general opposition to oil and gas development, which the BLM deems “non-substantive.”
The “substantive” comments addressed, which draw attention to specific BLM stipulations and regulations, were made by La Plata County and Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Joyner said.
La Plata County commissioners previously sent a letter to the BLM with concerns about impacts to local water resources, infrastructure and residents. They asked for a deferral of the sale until these issues could be properly addressed.
Joyner said the BLM’s position is that it has analyzed those potential impacts to resources within its Resource Management Plan, and the proposed parcel is in conformity with that analysis.
If and when the parcel is sold and an oil and gas company proposes a plan for development, the BLM then can conduct a more detailed analysis into the region’s impacts, Joyner said.
“At this time of the lease sale, the parcel is still valid for oil and gas development,” he said.
CPW, for its part, argued the property in Hay Gulch is mapped as important winter habitat for mule deer. As a result, CPW asked for some greater protections for wildlife, such as limiting well density and off-site migration to compensate for the loss of functional habitat.
Joyner said the Hay Gulch property is adjacent to wildlife concentration areas, but is not specifically designated as such, according to CPW records. That designation could come should an operator develop the land, which requires further study.
“It’s not something we have enough data on at this time to apply those stipulations,” Joyner said. “It’s not hard to think that if you’re a mile outside of a migration corridor, you could logically assume they’ll be there. But at the lease sale stage, we need to rest our hat on hard data.”
Anyone who participated in the public comment period has until Jan. 9 to submit a “protest” to the BLM’s responses.
La Plata County Commissioner Gwen Lachelt said the commission is undecided on whether it intends to protest, but it will discuss the matter at its weekly discussion time on Wednesday.
CPW spokesman Joe Lewandowski said the agency does not intend to file a protest.
The landowner of the property in Hay Gulch, for his part, is in favor of the oil and gas lease sale. When asked in October whether he is in support of oil and gas development on his land, Dan Huntington said, “Hell yes I am.”