Commissioners right to press for leasing plan

In its June 28 editorial, The Durango Herald argued that La Plata County commissioners overstepped when they sent a letter to the Bureau of Land Management requesting a deferral of the gas and oil leases in western La Plata County until a master leasing plan, as well as the Resource Management Plan, is completed.

For numerous reasons, the Herald got it wrong.

Almost all of the land proposed to be leased is privately owned but with federal minerals, called split-estate lands. The vast majority of the landowners are opposed to the leasing. The benefits of the leasing will primarily accrue to the gas and oil companies, and the landowners will see virtually no benefit.

By speaking up for these landowners, commissioners Gwen Lachelt and Julie Westendorff were doing their rightful job for the people of the county.

The Herald argues that it is solely the BLM’s job to decide how to review whether and how to lease these lands. The BLM has clearly shown its plan. It conducted a shoddy review last year, and now, with no further review, plans to lease the parcels in November. No real planning is the BLM’s choice, the Resource Management Plan it is using is more than 28 years old, yet it can’t even wait until its new plan is done in a few months.

A master leasing plan is just as it sounds. It is a plan, developed for an area before leasing is done, that tries to balance the desires of the industry to develop the federally owned minerals with the needs of the local area. It looks at options for how to mitigate against impacts to farmers, ranchers and other landowners as well as to wildlife, water resources and air quality. Like other master plans, such as the county requires for virtually any other development of the scale proposed by the BLM, it ensures that the overall development occurs in a well-thought-out and reviewed manner.

Clearly, a decades-old planning document that did not even begin to consider gas and shale oil development is not such a plan.

The BLM has suggested that it may do a master leasing plan, but by leasing prior to doing one, it is clear it is not. How the Herald can on one hand argue for another deferral, and yet claim that the BLM knows best how to proceed, is nonsensical at best.

Part of the county commissioners’ job is to make sure development happens in a sensible and planned manner. The letter acknowledges BLM’s rightful leadership in planning for federal gas and oil leases and development, it merely asks that the BLM actually do that planning.

If the lease sale proceeds as the BLM currently plans, there will be no more public input accepted other than formal protests, which for most people would entail hiring an attorney. The leases will then be owned by companies that will have rights to proceed with development. It will be too late for any imagined process by the BLM to occur. It must happen before the leases are sold, not after.

Commissioners Lachelt and Westendorff deserve thanks for doing their job. Dan Randolph is executive director of the San Juan Citizens Alliance.