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Agency working out kinks in lease sales

BLM seeks to improve communication about proposed gas, oil development

The Bureau of Land Management’s local field office has learned some lessons from the most recent natural-gas and oil leasing process, which ended in a flood of protests and the deferral of more than 12,000 acres from the February lease sale.

The field manager and assistant field manager at the Tres Rios Field Office, which oversees more than 600,000 acres in southwestern Colorado, said they realized that the lease-sale process confused and shocked some people and since have improved their methods for getting the word out about different stages of the lease sale.

“(The process) is being fine-tuned as we go,” said Brad Dodd, the office’s associate field manager.

The stage of gathering public comment before going through with a lease sale is a relatively new one, introduced by the U.S. Department of the Interior in 2010. The Tres Rios Field Office was only the second office in Colorado to go through the new process, making the recent months a learning opportunity, said Connie Clementson, Tres Rios Field Office manager.

The BLM officials discussed the lease sale and other issues on the agency’s plate during a Wednesday meeting with La Plata County commissioners.

Communication between the two agencies has been a recurring issue during the last several months as the BLM gathered public comment and assessed the environmental impact of leasing 12,175 acres in La Plata, Archuleta, Montezuma, Dolores and San Miguel counties for natural-gas and oil development.

In deciding to pull the parcels from the lease sale, Clementson said one of the reasons was she hadn’t had time to meet with newly elected commissioners in the affected counties, including La Plata County where the bulk of the land is located.

For its part, the county had previously brought up concerns about BLM’s public-notification procedures.

“It has come to the attention of the La Plata County Commissioners that many citizens of La Plata County were unaware of the Proposed Lease Sale until a story was published in The Durango Herald on August 30th 2012,” the commissioners wrote in a letter to the BLM in September. “Since the publication of this story, the La Plata County Commissioners have received several inquiries about the proposed lease sale and numerous complaints about the short time period in which to comment.”

In response, the BLM extended its comment period by two weeks.

Clementson made clear that the decision to defer the leases in Southwest Colorado does not take that land off the table for future development. After the BLM answers all the protests received about the lease sale, the land could be renominated for leasing as soon as August or November, Clementson said.

Dodd said the field office also has been evaluating the possibility of implementing another level of analysis, planning and decision-making for oil and gas development in certain areas.

Called a master leasing plan, the concept allows the agency to better define how an area is controlled and developed, Dodd said. The Paradox Basin west of Durango, the San Juan Basin and the San Juan Sag near Pagosa Springs are all candidates for such a process, he said.

ecowan@durangoherald.com

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