The Bureau of Land Management has released a preliminary environmental
assessment of more than 12,000 acres in Southwest Colorado that are
potentially set to be leased for natural-gas and oil development. Eight of
the 12 parcels, encompassing 10,761 acres, are located in La Plata County
The BLM is accepting public comment on the 117-page environmental
assessment until Sept. 17. The agency will incorporate those comments into
a final environmental assessment, which will provide the basis for the
BLM’s decision whether to lease the parcels and under what stipulations.
The assessment outlines potential effects of leasing and development that
include impacts on wildlife, soil, water and air quality.
The document indicates that “potential drilling targets for (Hesperus)
parcels are Mancos Shale and deeper.” In recent years energy companies
have been increasingly eyeing the Mancos Shale, a formation that hasn’t
been developed previously but could potentially yield both oil and natural
Jimbo Buickerood, public lands coordinator with the San Juan Citizens
Alliance, outlined several concerns the nonprofit has with the BLM’s
The most glaring is the fact that the assessment is based on a 1985
Resource Management Plan which is now outdated, Buickerood said. A
resource-management plan acts as a guiding document for BLM projects and
The BLM has spent years working on a new management plan that is scheduled
to be complete next year. The agency should wait until it has a more
current document with up-to-date data to guide its environmental
assessments, Buickerood said.
Waiting for the completion of the management plan would hold up the BLM’s
work on the ground, said Shannon Borders, a spokeswoman for the BLM’s Tres
Rios Field Office, which covers Southwest Colorado.
With about 70 percent of the leases located on private property, potential
drilling also would affect many local landowners, Buickerood said.
All leaseholders who purchase natural-gas and oil leases must apply for
drilling permits before they can develop on the land. The BLM would then
be required to go through another environmental review process in line
with the National Environmental Policy Act.
That process would mean it would be two to three years for development to
occur after a lease sale, Borders said. The leases are scheduled to be
offered in a competitive sale in February 2013.