Park-area parcels pulled from gas auction
The Bureau of Land Management has pulled parcels near Mesa Verde National Park from its Colorado oil and gas lease sale next week.
It also has decided not to offer five parcels near Dinosaur National Monument in its next lease sale in May.
The parcels in the Mesa Verde area are just the latest to be deferred from leasing next Thursday for further study. The agency previously deferred other parcels to be offered near Dinosaur National Monument, and this week put off leasing of some 20,500 acres in the North Fork Valley in the face of heavy opposition.
The BLM deferred leasing of 12 parcels it planned to offer in southwest Colorado, to allow for further review. Eight of those are just east of Mesa Verde National Park. The National Park Service has contended that the lease plans don’t conform to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s leasing reforms due to a lack of an air quality assessment for the park.
This week, more than 20 former park employees from the Four Corners area and surrounding region wrote Salazar to urge that the parcels be withdrawn from the sale.
The Park Service also has raised concerns about possible air quality and other impacts of drilling near Dinosaur National Monument.
“We’re glad to see the Colorado BLM is applying common sense to leasing decisions but these deferrals are a short-term solution,” said Ellynne Bannon of the Check and Balances Project watchdog group.
She said Colorado BLM director Helen Hankins and the state office need “to apply the Department of Interior’s leasing reforms to ensure that we prevent problems moving forward.”
Critics of the Colorado BLM office say lease protests in the state are higher than in some other states because the state isn’t properly following reforms intended to consider concerns earlier in the lease planning process.
Colorado BLM spokesman Steven Hall said public lands leasing in Colorado is more controversial than in less-populated states with more oil and gas development on public land. Protests are another chance for the BLM to hear input, “and we do listen,” he said.
The BLM deferred the five Dinosaur-area parcels from the May sale earlier in the lease review process, during the final environmental analysis stage.
Hall said any parcels near national parks and monuments will be offered only after consulting with the Park Service to address its concerns.