The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which had received a flurry of protests calling for the removal of nearly all 172 parcels from an upcoming oil and gas lease sale in Colorado, said last Tuesday it will defer 37 of the parcels "in order to conduct additional analysis and public outreach with local communities."

The BLM said it will offer 135 parcels, totaling 129,726 acres, in its oil and gas lease sale scheduled for Thursday (Nov. 8), but has decided to defer from the sale a number of parcels located in Grand and Jackson counties.

Prior to the announcement a total of 29 protests related to the quarterly lease sale had been filed with the BLM. Among those filing protests of what had been a proposed lease sale of 187,000 acres in Middle Park, North Park and the Paradox Basin were four small towns located in Grand County, including the county seat, Hot Sulphur Springs, several environmental groups and 11 private citizens. According to a story in one local newspaper, the Grand Junction Sentinel, protests were filed for all but three of the parcels in the lease sale. The Colorado Division of Wildlife did not file an official protest but has asked the BLM to remove more than 120,000 acres from the sale in an effort to protect wildlife habitat.

In the notice announcing the lease sale, the BLM said it would "issue no lease for a protested parcel until the state director makes a decision on the protest."

"We acknowledge that with little federal oil and gas leasing in Grand County in recent years, all parties involved will benefit from additional discussions and outreach on the federal oil and gas leasing process," said BLM Colorado deputy state director Lynn Rust. "To facilitate this outreach without impeding deadlines, I have decided to defer a portion of the parcels from the November 2007 oil and gas lease sale. I am deferring some additional parcels outside of Grand County for further analysis."

According to a BLM spokesman, the original decision to offer the proposed lease parcels "was not undertaken lightly." Resource management plans were thoroughly analyzed and the BLM documented that planning decisions regarding oil and gas leasing were still valid, the spokesman said.

Since announcing the lease auction in August the BLM had already trimmed some parcels from the initial acreage, including portions of five parcels deferred Oct. 5 because they included habitat occupied by sage grouse.

The sage grouse population, one of the wildlife species protesters are seeking to protect in Colorado, is on the decline, forcing the state and other states to search for a way for development to coexist with the bird. In June Colorado released a draft statewide plan aimed at preserving the sage grouse population (see NGI, June 25). The BLM office in Montana in July put on hold its plans to offer acreage in part of that state for oil and gas leasing because of sage grouse concerns (see NGI, July 23).

Earlier in October the BLM's Utah office canceled an oil and natural gas lease sale, which had been scheduled for Nov. 13, so it could take a closer look at the possible impact drilling on the sale properties might have on wildlife habitat (see NGI, Oct. 15). It was the first time in more than 20 years that the BLM canceled a quarterly oil and gas lease auction in Utah. Drilling on the 140,000 acres in central and north Utah, which were to be offered in the November auction, potentially could affect the habitat of a host of species, including sage grouse, deer, elk, pigmy rabbits and prairie dogs.

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