Failing to reach consensus, an advisory committee will make no recommendation to the Bureau of Land Management about a master leasing plan to govern oil and gas development.
On Friday, the BLM’s Southwest Resource Advisory Council met in Gunnison to weigh two resolutions – one taking a stance against a master leasing plan, another offering a compromise – but neither passed the group.
The second resolution was shaped on the premise of directing the BLM to consider cultural and natural resources, business interests, recreation, agriculture and other interests as the agency considers mineral leases, without specifying a particular mechanism for doing so.
In the next 20 years, an estimated 3,000 wells are expected to be developed on federal lands in western La Plata County and eastern Montezuma County. The BLM has a Resource Management Plan, updated in February 2015, but master leasing plan proponents argue that the document is outdated and too broad of a regulatory tool.
A master leasing plan would place the future wells under a microscope, tightening restrictions on where they could be placed, and how close they could be to valued resources, such as Phil’s World, the renowned bike trail system in Cortez.
In June, the advisory council postponed a formal decision on whether to recommend the master leasing plan, though most members weren’t enthusiastic about the extensive planning process.
Eric Sanford, a council member and land manager for an oil and gas production company, said at that meeting that while master leasing plans are necessary in some cases, to apply one to the area in question is a “misuse” of the process because the leasable acreage is relatively small.
According to the BLM, there are about 46,000 acres within the two-county proposed master leasing plan boundaries.
The dispute remains over whether it is a necessity to ensure the protection of all interests at stake, or a way to curb the oil and gas industry.
“The way it worked out, there was not a way forward,” said Jimbo Buickerood, a council member and public lands coordinator for San Juan Citizens Alliance, which pushed for the plan.
The council’s 15 members are divided into three categories, the first representing commercial and commodity interests, the second environmental and historical interests, and the third, governmental and tribal interests.
The lack of direction from the council does not preclude the BLM state office from pursuing a master leasing plan, and the agency is expected to make a decision this fall.
The state office did not return a call for comment.