Gas and oil comment period gets extension

The Bureau of Land Management has extended the public comment deadline for an environmental assessment of more than 12,000 acres in Southwest Colorado that are proposed for natural-gas and oil-lease sales.

The new deadline to comment is Oct. 2.

The parcels are in Archuleta, Dolores, La Plata, Montezuma and San Miguel counties and about 64 percent of the federally owned minerals are under privately owned land.

Eight parcels, or 10,761 acres, are in La Plata County near Hesperus.

The Bureau of Land Management will incorporate public comments into a final environmental assessment. The final assessment will provide the basis for the BLM’s decision whether to lease the parcels and under what stipulations.

The parcels will potentially be offered for lease in February.

“We are extending the comment period to ensure that we receive applicable information regarding resources on these parcels,” Connie Clementson, BLM Tres Rios field manager, said in a news release.

The nonprofit San Juan Citizens Alliance submitted comments criticizing the BLM’s environmental assessment because that analysis is based on a 1985 Resource Management Plan. The BLM has spent years working on a new management plan that is scheduled to be complete next year.

“We believe that any significant project such as this leasing decision, should not progress until the completion of (the BLM’s) Resource Management Plan,” the San Juan Citizens Alliance said in a statement released Tuesday. “The public provided thousands of comments in the shaping of the (management plan) and rightfully should be afforded the respect of the completion and use of the plan and as a guiding document for approval and design of all BLM-related projects.”

The San Juan Citizens Alliance and several Durango-area residents said the BLM deferred gas and oil lease sales for certain parcels in Southwest Colorado in 2008 because an updated Resource Management Plan. The BLM should continue to follow its previous reasoning, they said.

Borders confirmed that Southwest Colorado parcels were deferred in 2008, but said she did not know the reason.

Anne Marie Greenberg, resident of Durango West 2 and another opponent of BLM’s approach to the lease sale, started a Facebook page and a petition on the social change website Change.org to spread public awareness about the lease sale. The petition cites concerns about a lack of “proper public comment” and the BLM’s decision not to complete an Environmental Impact Statement. Greenberg’s petition, titled “Stop Fracking in SW Colorado,” had 272 supporters as of Wednesday.

The BLM did not complete an Environmental Impact Statement – a more thorough analysis of the potential environmental effects and risks of a certain action – for the 12,000 acres set to be leased. The BLM’s current draft environmental assessment resulted in a finding of no significant impact, which does not trigger an environmental impact statement.

Hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling technologies are increasingly being used to break into shale beds such as the Mancos, which the BLM environmental assessment cited as a “potential drilling target” for the Hesperus-area parcels.

ecowan@durangoherald.com

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