Colorado accounted for about 12 percent of the nation's oil and gas drilling on public lands during the last federal fiscal year, an increased share reflecting more federal-land drilling activity in the state over that time.
Newly released Bureau of Land Management data shows Colorado and North Dakota ranking in the second tier of onshore, public-lands drilling activity, with New Mexico and Wyoming far out front.
Drilling started on 225 wells on public lands in Colorado in the 2018 federal fiscal year, which ended last Sept. 30, the BLM reports. That's up from 148 a year earlier, or about 10 percent of the federal total for fiscal year 2017.
New Mexico led the nation in well starts in the last fiscal year, at 636, followed by Wyoming (612) and North Dakota (233).
The jump in Colorado came despite what state data shows was overall lower drilling activity on all lands in northwest Colorado's Piceance Basin during the 2018 calendar year.
The BLM reports that 132 public-land well starts in the last fiscal year occurred on land administered by its Colorado River Valley Field Office in Silt, up from 59 the previous year.
While much of the state's drilling activity involving federal lands and/or minerals occurs in northwest Colorado, the BLM reported 51 well starts in fiscal year 2018 involving its Royal Gorge Field Office, which oversees eastern Colorado territory.
In a news release, the Interior Department said a record 214 million barrels of oil on federal lands were produced during the last fiscal year, which also resulted in a record $1.1 billion in revenue from oil and gas lease sales. A single lease sale in New Mexico accounted for nearly $1 billion of that amount.
Nationally, drilling permit approvals rose from 2,486 in FY 2017 to 3,388 the next year. In Colorado, that number rose from 319 to 402. Interior said average drilling permit processing times have been cut from 257 days in fiscal year 2016 to 176 days two years later.
Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said in the department's release, "President Trump has ensured that America's great energy renaissance includes federal lands while delivering high-paying jobs and low-cost fuel."
Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance industry group, said that "the Trump energy dominance is having an effect, as indicated by the record high leasing revenue. Companies once again have faith that if they acquire a lease, they will be able to develop on it. There was such uncertainty during the Obama administration as timelines to obtain permits and environmental approvals dragged on so long and were in many cases prohibitive."
The BLM leased 1.25 million acres nationally for oil and gas development during FY2018, up from 1.1 million the previous year and 577,317 acres two years prior. In Colorado, however, about 86,000 acres were leased in the last fiscal year, down from about 115,000 the prior year.
Nada Culver, a Wilderness Society attorney, said the BLM has been in a rush to lease acreage in Colorado without good analysis early in the process, which has resulted in it having to pull large amounts of acreage from lease sales to address concerns.
"To me I think this celebration (by Interior) of efforts to lease our public lands is masking the fact that we're seeing a lot of irresponsible attempts to lease," she said.
She cited among examples plans the BLM had put forward, but later deferred, to offer lease acreage beneath the James M. Robb Colorado River State Park in the Cameo area, and acreage that then-Gov. John Hickenlooper asked to have pulled from sales due to wildlife-related concerns.
"Each time we don't correct one of those mistakes and those lands get leased is another mistake we all have to live with," Culver said.