The Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) Colorado office deferred offering oil and gas leases for 84 of 133 parcels of U.S. Forest Service land at the BLM's oil and gas lease sale held last Thursday.
The 133 parcels originally scheduled to be offered represent 175,430 acres. The deferred parcels represent 144,000 acres in the Rio Grande National Forest in Colorado's San Luis Valley. Deferred acreage is 82% of the original lease sale.
"Based on information we received from the public, local governments and our own internal review, we will defer offering these Forest Service parcels until additional analysis can be completed," said BLM Colorado State Director Sally Wisely. The BLM received approximately 97 protests by its April 23 deadline to comment on the sale. Every parcel in the sale received at least one protest, BLM spokesman Jim Sample told NGI.
Concerns raised related to effects on air and water quality. The San Luis Valley is at the headwaters of the Rio Grande river. Protesters also raised concerns about development on roadless areas. The Colorado Division of Wildlife (DOW) filed a protest, seeking removal of several parcels and stipulations on others to protect wildlife; however, its protest was not received by the deadline and was not considered. The DOW raised concerns for the sage grouse and its habitat among other issues. Earlier this year a plan to protect the sage grouse was took effect in Colorado (see NGI, March 24).
"It's not out of the ordinary to receive a lot of protests, especially where a major watershed is concerned," Sample said. "This area had not seen any new oil and gas leasing for about 20 years. It's an area of particular sensitivity partially because folks hadn't been accustomed to it."
In last week's sale the Colorado BLM office sold 46 parcels of 49 offered, totaling 28,546 acres of public lands. The high bid, for a 160-acre parcel in Weld County, was $3,300 per acre; the high bonus bid was $528,000, for the same parcel. The lease sale earned $3,996,068 in proceeds, of which 48% will go to the state. The state received $123 million in Fiscal Year 2007 from royalties, rentals and bonus bid payments for all federal minerals (including coal).
The Forest Service determines where and under what conditions oil and gas leasing can occur on National Forest System lands, and BLM then decides whether National Environmental Policy Act requirements have been met before offering the leases for sale at auction.
Based on public input, the BLM can choose to offer the parcels, defer them for additional analysis or offer protested parcels with a notice to lessees that the parcels are under protest.
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