BLM ignoring public on gas and oil leases

This past year the local public land management agencies, the San Juan National Forest and the Bureau of Land Management, moved away from a great model of “Service First” in which they were jointly run out of the San Juan Public Lands Center, with mutual leadership and resources.

We now have completely separated agencies again, and it appears we have a “Service Last” approach by the newly formed Tres Rios BLM office and, no, I don’t know which three rivers they are named for.

The BLM is moving forward with the leasing of lands in western La Plata County and eastern Montezuma County, primarily in the area from Hesperus to Mancos Hill, and U.S. Highway 160 south to Hay Gulch.

The lease areas also include some over by Chromo in Archuleta County and McKenna Peak in Dolores and San Miguel counties.

There are 12,175 acres total, of which 3,369 acres are federal surface ownership, 7,766 acres are private surface ownership and 1,040 acres are state of Colorado surface ownership. All parcels are entirely federally owned minerals.

We don’t know the geologic formations that are of interest to the companies that nominated the leases, but there is a high likelihood that shale oil or shale gas are the primary targets.

In 2009, the joint agencies found that the leases couldn’t move forward until a new Resource Management Plan is completed. The management plan in place for the Tres Rios BLM is one completed in 1985, and updated in 1991.

The oil and gas development in the area exceeds the projections in those documents by more than 38 percent. No shale development was analyzed at all, and issues from development on steep slopes to air quality and climate impacts were ignored. A new management plan is expected soon – within a year.

The need for a good, complete analysis, along with a vigorous public process, is not only legally necessary, but in this case is extremely warranted. Unfortunately, Tres Rios BLM is doing neither.

First, the BLM failed to seek comment about the Environmental Assessment from anyone other than the surface land owners, and has completely ignored those of us who are not surface owners who sent initial scoping comments.

The draft Environmental Assessment is now out for public comment and available on the web (www.blm.gov/co/st/en/BLM_Information/nepa/TRFO_NEPA/tres_rios_february.html). Comments are due Sept. 17.

Secondly, the BLM is now arguing that the 1985 and 1991 plans and update are sufficient to cover the impacts.

If the leases go forward there could be significant increases in heavy truck traffic on the La Plata Highway, Hay Gulch and other roads in the area; there are many water quality and use issues, air quality issues, and could be major changes in the character of the upper west side of La Plata County.

The Tres Rios BLM must extend the comment period and allow and facilitate a much broader public comment and listening process. This lease sale should wait until the new management plan is completed and must be analyzed fully for the real and significant impacts it could trigger.

dan@sanjuancitizens.org. Dan Randolph is executive director of the San Juan Citizens Alliance.