More than 12,000 acres of federal mineral rights in Southwest Colorado that officials previously indicated would be up for gas and oil lease sale in November have been deferred.
The only parcels included in the state BLM’s official notice of the November gas and oil lease sale are in the Royal Gorge Field Office area. The parcels cover about 2,500 acres in northeast Colorado.
Connie Clementson, field manager of the Tres Rios Field Office, which oversees Southwest Colorado, told La Plata County commissioners in June that the 12 nominated parcels in the office’s territory would be going to lease sale in November. They originally were scheduled to be offered at the February 2013 sale but were deferred.
Clementson said the BLM wanted to proceed with leasing in 2013 while the environmental assessment the agency performed last year was current and accurate.
When contacted Friday, Clementson wrote in an email that the BLM decided to defer the parcels again in order to “complete further analysis and work with interested agencies.”
That could mean tribal entities or agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service or the Bureau of Reclamation that manage the surface above federal mineral rights, said Shannon Borders, a BLM spokeswoman.
La Plata County Commissioner Gwen Lachelt said she didn’t receive any advance indication that the BLM had changed its mind regarding the Southwest Colorado parcels, eight of which are in La Plata County. Lachelt said she was expecting to see the acreage on the November lease sale notice after she received a letter Tuesday saying the BLM had decided not to pursue another layer of environmental analysis in the county.
Lachelt and fellow commissioner Julie Westendorff signed a letter in June requesting that the BLM defer leasing in western La Plata County until the agency had completed a master leasing plan for the area.
Master leasing plans offer a mechanism to further analyze 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. The concept aims to reduce the number of protests the BLM receives about its gas and oil leasing and to increase public involvement in the process.
The BLM’s letter stated that such a plan would not be appropriate for western La Plata County because of the small amount of BLM-managed acreage and federal mineral interest, lack of current gas or oil production and limited potential for future development according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
But the fact that little development has occurred or is about to occur in western La Plata County is exactly why the BLM should pursue a master leasing plan for the area, Lachelt said. That planning process is supposed to happen before energy development takes off, she said.
“Once you have leased it, you have made the decision that oil and gas development is going to happen,” she said. “That’s the critical step we’re missing before these lease parcels are ever put up for auction – is to question whether the BLM went out and determined whether those lands were actually suitable (for gas and oil development).”
The BLM’s letter said that if local conditions change in the future, the agency could revisit the master leasing plan option.