County asks for delay in gas and oil lease

Commissioners request BLM master plan

Lachelt Enlarge photo

Lachelt

Two La Plata County commissioners signed off on a letter Tuesday urging the Bureau of Land Management to hold off on leasing 10,000 acres near Hesperus for natural-gas and oil development until the agency completes another level of analysis and planning for the area.

Commissioners Gwen Lachelt and Julie Westendorff supported a request for the BLM to defer the La Plata County parcels that are scheduled for lease sale in November until it conducts a master leasing plan for the area.

The commissioners agreed that a master leasing plan is a way to balance resource development with the protection of resources such as farmlands, wildlife habitat and recreation areas by addressing potential conflicts before making leasing decisions.

“However, by making the decision to lease (the La Plata County parcels in November), the BLM appears to be shutting the door on a (master plan) and a smart approach to protect the treasures that are so important to our local community and economy,” the letter said.

Commissioner Bobby Lieb did not sign the letter, arguing that the county should let the BLM work through its own processes in evaluating a master leasing plan. He disagreed that another layer of regulation is necessary in this situation and said he thought the leases should move forward.

“I see this (additional resource development) as an opportunity to rejuvenate our local economy,” he said.

The master leasing plan concept is one of several reform measures the U.S. Department of the Interior implemented in 2010 as part of an effort to “establish a more orderly, open and environmentally sound process for developing gas and oil resources on public lands,” then-Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a news release.

A master leasing plan provides a mechanism for analyzing potential environmental and cultural effects of gas and oil development in areas where leasing is likely, but has not yet occurred on a wide scale. It also allows for the BLM to impose mitigation measures and constraints on leasing to protect those resources.

Three field offices in Colorado are planning to do master leasing plans, but none has been completed, BLM spokesman Steven Hall said. Only a few places in the country have completed master lease plans, Hall said.

For its part, the Tres Rios Field Office is considering whether three basins in the area – the San Juan Sag in Archuleta County, the San Juan Basin and the Paradox Basin that stretches northwest of Durango – would meet the criteria for a master leasing plan.

The results of the Tres Rios analysis will be included in the final draft of the office’s Resource Management Plan, a broad roadmap for land management in the area that is expected to be released in August, Tres Rios Field Manager Connie Clementson said. The document will be open for a 30-day comment period after it is released.

The completed analysis should be looked at as a starting point to discuss whether the BLM should go forward with a master leasing plan, Clementson said.

“It’s not the end but the beginning of conversation with communities about master leasing plans,” she said.

ecowan@durangoherald.com

Westendorff Enlarge photo

Westendorff