Deal would allow drilling in wildlife area

An energy company and the Colorado Division of Wildlife are negotiating an agreement that, if reached, would lead to the company drilling within the Garfield Creek State Wildlife Area south of New Castle.

The proposed deal comes amid a dispute involving the Bureau of Land Management, which has threatened to cancel a lease it had issued within the area, after having mistakenly failed to impose a no-surface-occupancy restriction.

The deal also would be central to an 880-acre proposal by Dejour Energy (USA) Corp. to drill 68 wells from four pads in and near the wildlife area. The BLM expects to put the proposal out for public comment as soon as this week. Within a few weeks, it likewise expects to begin seeking comments on a proposal by Bill Barrett Corp. to drill 88 wells from six pads on 2,400 acres just southwest of the Dejour acreage.

The DOW considers the 13,234-acre wildlife area to be critical deer and elk habitat, but it can’t prevent drilling there because it doesn’t own the minerals beneath it.

In a 1991 amendment to its resource management plan for the region, the BLM required that oil and gas development involving federal minerals in the wildlife area be subject to no-surface-occupancy restrictions except for 1,170 acres for which leases already had been issued. But in 2001 it issued a 1,520-acre lease while applying the restriction to only part of the wildlife-area acreage that makes up most of the leased area.

Dejour later acquired a majority ownership in the lease from the original buyer.

Last year, the BLM decided to cancel the lease unless Dejour agreed to the omitted restriction. Dejour appealed to the Interior Board of Land Appeals, which set aside the BLM decision and remanded the matter back to the agency for further consideration.

According to BLM spokesman David Boyd, the board said the agency needed to provide more complete documentation for its position, and the BLM continues to contend the surface restriction must apply to the lease. But that restriction can be waived if the DOW agrees to a surface-use agreement.

Dejour is proposing to drill from one pad on BLM land outside the wildlife area, two pads just inside the area, and one small pad farther inside the area, but located along Garfield Creek Road.

Dejour president Harrison Blacker said the Dejour proposal involves only a small portion of the contested lease, and it entails a second lease. Dejour plans to drill within an existing development area, he said.

DOW spokesman Randy Hampton said drilling in the wildlife area already has occurred in a couple of areas along Garfield Creek to accommodate development of privately owned minerals underlying the wildlife area.

Boyd said the three proposed pads would be the only active pads to date in the wildlife area for federal minerals development.

One pad for federal minerals was drilled in the area in the 1980s, but the well was later plugged and the pad reclaimed. There are no proposals for new drilling in the area in the case of the pre-1991 federal leases not subject to the surface restrictions.

DOW spokesman Mike Porras said his agency doesn’t want to stand in the way of energy development where feasible.

“But at the same time we certainly want to protect our wildlife,” he said.


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