BLM offers parcels near canyons

Oil and gas development possible on private land

Photo by Dean Humphrey—Riders at the Kokopelli trailhead on the north side of McInnis Canyons Conservation area—- sent as McInnis C Kokopelli3 10-25-9

Photo by Dean Humphrey—Riders at the Kokopelli trailhead on the north side of McInnis Canyons Conservation area—- sent as McInnis C Kokopelli3 10-25-9

The Bureau of Land Management is offering hundreds of acres next to McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area for oil and gas development, and is considering whether to lease thousands of acres in the same vicinity.

The agency’s November oil and gas lease sale includes a 480-acre parcel adjacent to McInnis Canyons on its north side, and a nearby, 320-acre parcel. The parcels are northwest of Mack and are generally private land with underlying federal minerals.

However, the BLM has deferred decisions on leasing some 11,500 acres in that same area. In some cases that’s because of proximity to Highway 139, a designated scenic byway, and in others it’s because the land is used by pronghorn as winter habitat, said BLM spokeswoman Erin Curtis.

Luke Schafer, northwest organizer for the Colorado Environmental Coalition, said his group hasn’t decided whether it will protest the leases near the conservation area, but he finds them “curious.”

He worries about the drilling’s potential visual and air quality impacts on the conservation area and nearby communities such as Fruita.

“The impacts not withstanding, is it worthwhile in the scheme of things to potentially allow oil and gas development in that area? … I’m not sure. I think the question needs to be asked,” Schafer said.

No drilling is permitted in the conservation area, but Curtis said the legislation creating it also specified that drilling-free buffer zones would not be created around the area.

Nevertheless, she said, the BLM took the conservation area’s proximity into consideration in deciding whether to lease the parcels. She said the part of the conservation area near the parcels requires the least restrictions to protect views because those views already include Interstate 70.

Schafer said he hadn’t been aware of a lot of oil and gas being in that area. Curtis said the BLM leases only parcels that others have nominated as candidates for leasing.

She said the BLM will take a closer look at the other parcels that were nominated in that area to determine if they should be leased, and if so, whether more protective measures should be attached to the leases. She said the BLM decided to defer decisions until it finishes updating its management plan for the Grand Junction Field Office, a process that could take until early 2011.

The BLM’s quarterly lease sale is Nov. 12. For the first time in Colorado, it will include geothermal leasing, involving a parcel of about 800 acres next to Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort west of Buena Vista.

Scott McInnis, a Republican candidate for governor and the former congressman after whom McInnis Canyons is named, said he would have to leave it to the experts in the BLM to consider questions such as visual impacts of nearby drilling.

But he voiced wariness over the idea of possibly preventing such drilling, noting that the conservation area is near communities as well.

“If you logically take what they’re saying, how should we address home and restaurants and things in Fruita or Mack or Loma?” he said.


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