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12,000 BLM acres back on market for drilling

By Emery Cowan Herald staff writer

More than 12,000 acres in Southwest Colorado that were deferred from gas and oil leasing in February are back on the table.

The 12 parcels will be going to lease sale in November, said Connie Clementson, field manager of the Bureau of Land Management’s Tres Rios Field Office, which oversees the area.

At least one environmental group already has criticized the BLM’s process of putting the parcels up for auction again, saying the agency continues to lack transparency in implementing its leasing decisions.

The parcels, eight of which are in La Plata County near Hesperus, were deferred from February’s lease sale to give the BLM time to review protests about the environmental assessment the agency performed to analyze the impacts of leasing. The deferral also allowed the agency to meet with and educate newly elected commissioners in the affected counties, Clementson said at the time.

The local Tres Rios Field Office along with state BLM Director Helen Hankins made the decision in April to put the leases back up for sale, Clementson said.

The BLM has an obligation to the industry to make available the parcels it has agreed to lease, Clementson said of the decision. The BLM also wanted to proceed with leasing while the environmental assessment it performed last year is current and accurate, she said. The agency will re-release that assessment in August, and the public will have 30 days to comment on the document.

Before the February lease sale, local environmental groups and the La Plata County Board of County Commissioners had expressed concern that the decision to lease was based on a 28-year-old plan for managing land-use decisions in the area.

A new resource management plan for BLM and Forest Service lands in Southwest Colorado is slated to be released in August, which should allay many of those concerns, Clementson said. People then can verify for themselves that the BLM’s leasing decisions are in compliance with the new plan.

The document presents a road map for how the public lands in the area should be managed and includes determinations of which areas should be leased for gas and oil development and whether those leases should include stipulations for things such as wildlife habitat and riparian areas.

San Juan Citizens Alliance was one of the groups that opposed the February lease sale, and the group continues to criticize BLM’s leasing process. The fact that BLM hasn’t announced the November Tres Rios lease sale on its website reflects a lack of transparency on the agency’s part, said Jimbo Buickerood, the alliance’s public lands coordinator.

“Our comment is, why doesn’t the public get informed (about the lease sale)?” Buickerood said. “They talk about being transparent and informing the public and following this whole lease reform, yet (the lease-sale notices) aren’t up online.”

Clementson did not return requests for a response to Buickerood’s complaint. As of Wednesday evening, the Web page announcing parcels in the November 2013 lease sale did not include information about parcels in the Tres Rios field office.

ecowan@durangoherald.com

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