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Mixed Reaction to BLM’s Proposed Southwestern Colorado Master Leasing Plan

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is expected to propose a master leasing plan (MLP) in October for the Tres Rios region in southwestern Colorado that would include provisions allowing oil and natural gas development, but some local industry are skeptical about the prospect.

The Tres Rios BLM MLP would include provisions for exceptions, modifications and waivers of oil and gas leases under the existing resource management plan (RMP).

"Ultimately, the scope and timing of the MLP will depend on resources and funding," said a BLM spokesperson. The concept of developing an MLP had "very robust local input" in recent months. From November 2015 through March, the district's resource advisory council (RAC) oil and gas subgroup held community meetings that drew more than 300 people and produced 350 pages of public comments.

Christi Zeller, the RAC’s industry representative for La Plata County, told BLM officials that she was disappointed that the advisory process led to the conclusion that an MLP was warranted because none of the four major criteria for forming an MLP exist. The oil and gas industry has to date expressed little interest in leasing in the region (see Shale DailyAug. 26, 2015).

However, BLM’s spokesperson told NGI's Shale Daily that even though the RAC in August was unable to reach a consensus on the MLP, the agency’s Colorado office reviewed all of the information and decided to move forward with developing a recommendation.

"We'll be proposing redefining the MLP boundaries to focus on federal lands and federal minerals, and based on inputs from the community input consider impacts on recreation areas, cultural resources and oil/gas leases," the spokesperson said.

BLM Tres Rios Office Field Manager Connie Clementson emphasized that the public comments ultimately led to the decision to move ahead with the MLP.

"We wanted to be responsive to the community," she said. Nevertheless, local energy industry officials fear the MLP will be used by anti-fossil fuel activists, who have been disrupting lease sales (see Daily GPIFeb. 5).

Three years ago, BLM officials had concluded that with the lack of a major new oil and gas discoveries, western La Plata County was not a "viable candidate" for an MLP. Zeller, who is executive director of the nonprofit trade organization the La Plata County Energy Council, asked BLM officials what had changed.

"The only change is some other conversation, outside of the purview of the public, where other influences reversed this decision and the discretion of the [BLM local management]," she said.  What she considered a worthwhile exercise -- the RAC for southwestern Colorado -- in the end was "hijacked by activists."

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