Governments anxious about Grand County energy leasing plan

Grand County commissioners are expressing “great concerns” to the Bureau of Land Management about a proposal to lease some 27,500 acres for oil and gas development just west of Granby, the western portal to Rocky Mountain National Park.

“The local ecosystem is very fragile and much care is taken to protect it in order to protect the County’s natural beauty. The County feels that oil and gas development would have negative consequences on our local environment and economy,” county commissioners said in a letter sent to the BLM this week.

The mayors of the towns of Granby and Hot Sulphur Springs have sent the BLM letters echoing the county’s concerns about the proposal.

The BLM is considering offering the acreage next May in an oil and gas lease sale that altogether would cover more than 101,000 acres in several northwest Colorado counties.

The Grand County acreage straddles the Colorado River and stretches west from the Granby area to past Hot Sulphur Springs. It includes a mix of BLM land and private land with federally owned minerals beneath it. The easternmost parcels are several miles from the national park and Lake Granby.

The BLM accepted comments through Wednesday under a scoping period as it begins an environmental assessment on the proposal. The EA is due out in November, and a decision on leases to be offered will be made in February. By mid-day Wednesday, BLM spokesman David Boyd said the agency had received more than 100 comments, many from concerned Grand County residents.

Grand County doesn’t have any producing oil and gas wells but previously has seen some exploratory wells drilled west of Granby.

Grand County is asking the BLM to withdraw the Grand County parcels from its sale.

“There is too much at stake in Grand County to permit this kind of high impact activity, especially without … evaluation of relevant issues, especially water quality,” the county says in its letter.

The county points to its status as the headwaters county for the Colorado River, and the potential for impacts to the river and its tributaries to affect millions of downstream users. It cites concerns about the adequacy of current water supplies to meet local needs and says energy development’s heavy water demands could further strain water supplies. The county also raised concerns about potential impacts to wildlife, tourism and recreation, ranching, and lands protected by conservation easements.

Hot Sulphur Springs Mayor Robert McVay also pointed to noise, traffic, property value and other concerns, and Granby Mayor Paul Chavoustie specifically worried about potential impacts of nearby leases on property Granby recently bought with plans to develop it for recreational and other purposes.

Said Kathleen Sgamma of the Western Energy Alliance industry group, “I appreciate the concern that the Grand County commissioners have to protect the environment, as energy producers also share those concerns and conduct operations in a way to protect air, water, wildlife, and the land. The environmental issues raised in their letter are not new ones, as state and federal regulations are designed to avoid impacts and minimize any risk. Furthermore, BLM specifically places multiple restrictions on leases … and then again when projects are proposed and permitted, companies agree to even more measures to avoid or mitigate any impact.”

While the point of scoping is to raise issues like conservation easements, “a property owner who does not own the federal minerals beneath his or her property cannot nullify the mineral right, which belongs to all Americans,” Sgamma said. “I’m sure that since the commissioners have raised the issue of easements, BLM’s land department will consider them carefully as they analyze potential leases, but ultimately, the American people own federal oil and natural gas.”


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