The long-awaited new Resource Management Plan for the Tres Rios Field Office of the Bureau of Land Management, which covers the lands of Southwest Colorado, finally has been released.
The implications of the RMP are many, too many to deal with in a short column such as this. I have chosen to look only at how gas and oil leasing decisions would be made for lands that are privately owned but have gas and oil owned by the federal government. These lands, known as split-estate lands, include land scattered throughout San Miguel, Dolores, Montezuma, La Plata, Archuleta and Mineral counties.
For those whose private land is underlain by federal minerals, and who want to know what could happen with their land, good luck. The information about where these lands are and how the BLM might go about leasing them is scattered throughout three massive documents.
One hundred percent of the 319,957 acres of split-estate lands are made available for leasing. Yet even this number is unclear. In another part of the documents, there are only 255,973 such acres. Regardless, if you own any of this land, you may have a drill rig show up.
The primary safeguards are known as lease stipulations. These can include No Surface Occupancy, which prohibits use or occupancy of the surface, although the minerals are available through directional drilling. This is clearly the most restrictive. While it is very hard to tell for sure, it appears this applies to none of the private surface lands.
The next level are either Controlled Surface Use or Timing Limitation stipulations. As the names imply, these can require well pads, roads or pipelines to be kept from certain areas or can limit drilling, fracking or other major activities to certain times of year. These are typically used to protect such things as elk calving areas during calving season or archaeological areas. Again, the documents, as large as they are, make it virtually impossible to ascertain what lands are given these protections. It is clear they apply to some of the split-estate lands, but for many landowners, clarity is not available.
The areas not covered by any of these special stipulations nonetheless are covered by standard stipulations. These cover things such as distances from streams and steep slopes. They require the “minimization” of adverse impacts to air, water, land, other land uses, etc., but do allow year-round use and occupancy.
On individual leases, additional “reasonable” measures can be put in place, but may not require more than a 200-meter relocation of a well, road or pipeline and no more than 60 days a year of timing limitations.
For more than two decades, landowners have tried to get the BLM to recognize the impacts to homes, ranches, farms, private wildlife or forest areas. Unfortunately, it appears our local office has largely ignored them. As one of the largest mineral owners in the area, more consideration is warranted.
Landowners can protest by Oct. 21, but with the shutdown of BLM offices, good luck finding out exactly what stipulations your land was given. The documents are online at http://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/sanjuan/landmanagement/planning/?cid=stelprdb5432707.
firstname.lastname@example.org. Dan Randolph is executive director of the San Juan Citizens Alliance.