Energy industry not impressed by leasing plans

The prospect of using master-leasing plans in Grand Junction has environmental organizations enthused, but the energy industry is less than impressed, worrying that access to minerals is at stake.

Master-leasing plans should be included in the new resource-management plan for the Bureau of Land Management’s Grand Junction Field Office, The Wilderness Society and Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership said.

The first draft of the resource plan is up for public comment through June 24.

Under master-leasing plans, the bureau could move on large swaths of land at the beginning of interest in development, said Nada Culver, director and senior counsel for The Wilderness Society’s BLM Action Center in Denver.

Under the plans, the bureau could lay out how development would proceed in certain areas.

“You don’t even need a crystal ball” to know that areas are ripe for development, Culver said.

In many cases, the beginnings of development are present in locations that would lend themselves to master-lease plans, she said.

Bureau officials could use master-leasing plans in areas in the range of 100,000 acres to guide development on a basis that would allow them to tackle large issues, such as conflicts with other uses, recreation, or nearby communities, Culver said.

“There has to be enough land in play to make it worthwhile to have a vision for leasing,” Culver said. “If you know you have an area that needs attention, let’s do it ahead of time instead of when they have a few leases, a few permits, a few conflicts,” Culver said.

The resource-management plan will guide the Grand Junction office for the next 20 years on the management of 1.2 million acres of land, most of them in Mesa County. The total includes lands whose surfaces are managed by other agencies, but for which the BLM is responsible for the leasable mineral estate below.

“Master-leasing plans must play a prominent role in future land-use planning and leasing of minerals by the Bureau of Land Management” said Ed Arnett, director for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership’s Center for Responsible Energy Development. “Such planning efforts prior to development will reduce conflicts and allow for better balance between energy development and the needs of fish and wildlife, habitat managers, and sportsmen.”

The BLM is considering in the draft of the resource-management plan whether to make use of master-leasing plans in the Grand Junction office, but no decisions have been made.

More important than master-leasing plans is the overall attitude of the BLM toward energy development, especially on lands that already have been leased, said David Ludlam, executive director of the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association.

Resource-management plans are supposed to decide where drilling will occur, so in a sense the discussion of master-leasing plans misses the point, Ludlam said.

“We’re less concerned about the tool and more about the outcome,” Ludlam said.

Worries that the agency will impose requirements more tailored to overall plans on individual permits is frustrating the energy industry, Ludlam said.

“Uncertainty is what is making our operators very unsettled,” Ludlam said.


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The West Slope Colorado Oil & Gas Association neither protests nor supports Master Leasing Plans and prefers to assess applicability on a case-by-case basis.  Generally, WSCOGA is less concerned about specific tools the agency uses in its planning process and care more about actual outcomes and preserving the integrity of lease contracts.

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