Hesperus could see thousands of acres leased for gas

Thousands of acres could be leased for gas, oil projects

The Bureau of Land Management has released a preliminary environmental assessment of more than 12,000 acres in Southwest Colorado that are potentially set to be leased for natural-gas and oil development. Eight of the 12 parcels, encompassing 10,761 acres, are located in La Plata County near Hesperus.

The BLM is accepting public comment on the 117-page environmental assessment until Sept. 17. The agency will incorporate those comments into a final environmental assessment, which will provide the basis for the BLM’s decision whether to lease the parcels and under what stipulations.

The assessment outlines potential effects of leasing and development that include impacts on wildlife, soil, water and air quality.

The document indicates that “potential drilling targets for (Hesperus) parcels are Mancos Shale and deeper.” In recent years energy companies have been increasingly eyeing the Mancos Shale, a formation that hasn’t been developed previously but could potentially yield both oil and natural gas.

Jimbo Buickerood, public lands coordinator with the San Juan Citizens Alliance, outlined several concerns the nonprofit has with the BLM’s environmental assessment.

The most glaring is the fact that the assessment is based on a 1985 Resource Management Plan which is now outdated, Buickerood said. A resource-management plan acts as a guiding document for BLM projects and decisions.

The BLM has spent years working on a new management plan that is scheduled to be complete next year. The agency should wait until it has a more current document with up-to-date data to guide its environmental assessments, Buickerood said.

Waiting for the completion of the management plan would hold up the BLM’s work on the ground, said Shannon Borders, a spokeswoman for the BLM’s Tres Rios Field Office, which covers Southwest Colorado.

With about 70 percent of the leases located on private property, potential drilling also would affect many local landowners, Buickerood said.

All leaseholders who purchase natural-gas and oil leases must apply for drilling permits before they can develop on the land. The BLM would then be required to go through another environmental review process in line with the National Environmental Policy Act.

That process would mean it would be two to three years for development to occur after a lease sale, Borders said. The leases are scheduled to be offered in a competitive sale in February 2013.

ecowan@durangoherald.com

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