The Bureau of Land Management has pulled about 8,700 acres from its upcoming Colorado oil and gas lease sale in March, including nearly 1,900 acres in Mesa County, due to ongoing litigation.
It has deferred offering the Mesa County acreage, consisting of parcels southeast of Collbran and southeast of De Beque, due to a lawsuit challenging the BLM Grand Junction Field Office’s new resources management plan.
The remaining acreage the BLM is deferring from offering is in Jackson, Moffat and Rio Blanco counties and involves greater sage-grouse habitat. The agency was forced to pull the acreage as a result of an injunction issued by a federal judge in Idaho in a lawsuit challenging amended greater sage-grouse management plans the BLM adopted in northwest Colorado and in other states last year.
Deferring acreage from sales means that the BLM could offer them in a later sale.
With the deferrals, the BLM says it now plans to offer about 30,548 acres at its March 26 sale, all of it in Jackson and Las Animas counties.
The BLM had announced its original plans for the March sale at the start of October. Environmentalists sued over the Grand Junction Field Office management plan a week or so later, and the injunction in the greater sage-grouse suit was issued Oct. 16.
The suit involving the Grand Junction plan accuses the BLM of failing to consider the climate change impacts of foreseeable oil and gas development under the plan, based on the eventual combustion of the oil and gas produced. It also says the agency didn’t look closely enough at cumulative climate impacts of the local plan when considered along with the BLM’s nationwide oil and gas program, or consider management alternatives that would meaningfully limit oil and gas leasing and development.
Federal court records show no apparent signs of any injunctions having been issued in the case. BLM spokeswoman Kate Miyamoto said it was a BLM decision to defer offering the Mesa County parcels due to the ongoing suit.
Several oil and gas organizations, including the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association, have moved to intervene in the case. They said in a court filing Wednesday that no other parties in the case opposed their request by this week’s deadline for opposing it, and they asked the court to approve their request to intervene.
The situation involving the deferred parcels in greater sage-grouse habitat highlights a key difference between 2015 land management plans adopted in Colorado and other states under the Obama administration in an effort to keep the bird from requiring protection under the Endangered Species Act and the plans the Trump administration adopted. In Colorado, the Trump administration version opened about 350 square miles to leasing that was closed under the 2015 plan, although the acreage the amended plan opened to leasing is subject to a restriction on surface development.
The Jackson, Moffat and Rio Blanco county acreage that the BLM sought to offer in March but later deferred is closed to leasing under the 2015 management plan. The injunction handed down in October requires that the 2015 plan be followed while the lawsuit plays out in court, meaning the BLM can’t go ahead and offer that acreage for leasing, at least for now.