BLM defers Garfield Creek drilling leases | AspenTimes.com

BLM defers Garfield Creek drilling leases

Phillip Yates
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

Kelley Cox/Post IndependentThis Orion Energy drilling rig is located in the Garfield Creek State Wildlife area northwest of New Castle.

NEW CASTLE, Colo. ” The Bureau of Land Management is expected to continue to defer leasing of 1,237 acres of federal minerals below the Garfield Creek State Wildlife Area until a long-term resource plan for the Glenwood Springs area is completed. A draft of that plan is expected to be released in September 2009.

The BLM has deferred selling leases in that 1,237-acre area because it is located in a “pretty rugged area,” and it would be difficult for operators to drill there without causing surface disturbances in the wildlife area, said David Boyd, a spokesman for the agency.

And the BLM will continue to defer selling leases in Garfield Creek until the BLM’s Glenwood Springs Field Office completes its resource management plan for the area, Boyd said. That plan will include looking at various drilling stipulations for accessing federal minerals in the state wildlife area and other areas that the Glenwood Springs Field Office covers.

“We will look at the stipulations to see if they are adequate,” Boyd said.

The BLM deferred those 1,237 acres in a May lease sale. Some natural gas companies had nominated that acreage to be sold, Boyd said. The next agency lease sale is scheduled for November.

The Colorado Division of Wildlife uses the Garfield Creek State Wildlife Area as winter range for elk and deer, and to keep area wildlife off of Interstate 70.

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The state agency has challenged the BLM for selling a federal mineral parcel, which stretches for about 280 acres below the state wildlife area, earlier this year.

State officials had asked for the sale of that parcel to be delayed indefinitely because the land on top “provides crucial winter range for deer and elk that are finding fewer and fewer places to inhabit without conflict.” However, the BLM sold the parcel in its February lease sale.

The DOW protested the sale, but the BLM rejected the protest in July. Federal officials said the protest was rejected because the parcel’s lease has several protections that will reduce disturbances to area wildlife.

Those protections include seasonal drilling restrictions and a no-surface occupancy (NSO) stipulation. The latter requirement forces companies to extract natural gas from other areas to minimize surface disturbances.

The DOW can appeal the rejection of their protest to the U.S. Department of Interior’s Board of Land Appeals, which reviews appeals of the department’s decisions.

“We continue to have internal discussion regarding if we will move forward with our protest on that lease,” said Randy Hampton, a spokesman for the DOW. “That said, we appreciate the BLM’s decision to continue to deferring additional parcels within the Garfield Creek State Wildlife Area.”

There are 10,544 acres of federal minerals below the 13,234-acre state wildlife area. The BLM has already leased 7,150 of those acres, Boyd said. Of that leased acreage, 5,980 acres carry a NSO stipulation.

If the agency were to lease any further acreage underneath the wildlife habitat, those leases would carry that stipulation, Boyd said.

There are no gas wells in the state wildlife area currently accessing federal minerals, Boyd said. All federal minerals below the Garfield Creek State Wildlife Area are accessed from drilling locations outside the area.

But Denver-based Orion Energy Partners is currently drilling one exploratory well in the wildlife habitat. The company is accessing private mineral rights, rather than federal acreage.

The DOW cannot block drilling from occurring in the area because it does not own the mineral rights below the surface.

Orion began drilling in early August and is required to be out of the area by mid-October, which is the beginning of elk and deer hunting season in the area. The company must leave because of an agreement the company signed with the DOW.

Hampton said the DOW is waiting to see what occurs with Orion’s well to see whether there will be long-term drilling implications for the wildlife area.

“We were able to work out a very good agreement with Orion for that exploratory well,” Hampton said. “Certainly, it is easy to put protections in place for that one well. Our concern is if the exploratory well is successful, what are the implications from the dozens of other wells that will follow?”

pyates@postindependent.com

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