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BLM Releases Final Plan, EIS For West-Central Colorado Leasing

The federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) on Friday released its proposed resource management plan (RMP) and final environmental impact statement (EIS) covering future leasing on more than 1 million acres in west-central Colorado. This does not include the more hotly contested White River National Forest (WRNF) and Thompson Divide lands.

The release kicks off the initial 30-day public comment period for the federal agency, whose Grand Junction, CO, office issued the 754-page document that BLM produced in conjunction with cooperating agencies and the BLM Colorado Northwest Resources Advisory Council. It would be the first revised RMP for the area since 1987.

The Grand Junction office RMP/EIS is a broader plan than one submitted last month by the neighboring White River field office that focused on potential oil/gas development in that portion of the Piceance Basin in western Colorado (see Shale Daily, March 27). BLM Grand Junction plans cover more than just future oil/gas development, which is not as significant and includes smaller parts of the Piceance and Niobrara Shale play. The two plan areas are adjacent.

BLM has incorporated comments it received during a recent planning effort, according to Ruth Welch, state BLM director in Colorado. "The proposed RMP provides a framework for the future management direction and appropriate use of the lands and resources administered by the Grand Junction office," Welch said.

The latest action by the BLM in western Colorado came while the industry, local government and environmentalists were working on Congressional authorization for a land swap approach that would protect some parts of the Thompson Divide area in exchange for exploration/production companies getting additional lease acreage in other parts of the Western Slope where they already own acreage (see Shale Daily, April 9). That area is covered by a third BLM field office, the Colorado River Valley.

BLM's RMP includes the Shale Ridges and Canyons Master Leasing Plan, including no surface occupancy restrictions on more than 700,000 acres of public land. Under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, BLM is required to go through a nine-step process, and a critical part of that process is determining whether a master leasing plan should be developed, and in this case the verdict was clear that there should be one.

At least one major environmental group has praised the master leasing plan, which is the third one in the state to reach the final EIS stage of development.

Earlier this year, a coalition of industry groups objected to the BLM's environmental review process, claiming that it has for years hindered efforts to develop oil and natural gas in the Thompson Divide area. The groups have balked at actions by BLM and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) in the WRNF.

Last December, the USFS issued a record of decision to amend the resource management plan for the WRNF, which combines part of two alternatives, noting that 194,123 acres are available for leasing and 800,555 acres are legally closed to leasing as the result of Congressional direction (see Shale Daily, Feb. 11).

BLM's latest work includes four alternatives, one of which (Alternative B) it designated as "preferred,” and includes the master leasing plan. "Decisions under this alternative would seek to provide an overall balance between the protection, restoration and enhancement of natural and cultural values, while allowing resource use and development in existing or properly analyzed locations," the RMP said.

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