BLM pulls energy leases from auction | AspenTimes.com

BLM pulls energy leases from auction

The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

DENVER ” Concerns about the effects on wildlife and the environment have prompted the Bureau of Land Management to pull proposed oil and gas leases on nearly 38,000 acres from an upcoming auction.

BLM spokesman Jim Sample said Tuesday the parcels in Jackson and Grand counties will be yanked from the Nov. 8 auction so the agency can take a closer look at objections from state and local officials.

The parcels could be put up for bid at a later lease sale.

Conservation groups that filed protests of the leases were encouraged by the BLM’s announcement.

“We would hope that this means that there will be substantive discussions with the (state) Division of Wildlife,” said Suzanne O’Neill, executive director of the Colorado Wildlife Federation, made up of hunters, anglers and wildlife advocates.

Sample said proposed leases on 25,948 acres in Jackson County were withdrawn to review the Division of Wildlife’s concerns about the effects of energy development on the greater sage grouse and other wildlife.

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The BLM is also postponing action on 11,618 acres in Grand County, where communities filed protests on leases because of environmental concerns. Local elected officials also said they weren’t notified that the federal land and minerals were up for lease.

Still up for bid are 135 parcels over a total of 129,726 acres. The parcels are located across the state, although much of the land is in western Colorado, where natural gas drilling is growing at record rates.

State wildlife officials have said the North Park area in west-central Colorado, site of some of the withdrawn leases, is “one of the most substantial greater sage grouse core areas.”

Wildlife managers throughout the West are studying the best ways to conserve the greater sage grouse, which some environmentalists believe should be on the endangered species list because its numbers have plummeted.

Land in a basin between Meeker and Craig in northwest Colorado is a major migration route for some of the country’s largest deer and elk herds, state wildlife officials said.

Ron Velarde, manager of the Division of Wildlife’s northwest district, said in written comments to the BLM that while the federal agency says wildlife protections can be imposed after leases are approved, it’s been the state’s experience that those conditions “can be inadequate to protect wildlife habitats from the effects of oil and gas development.”

Velarde added that the Division of Wildlife is also worried that the BLM’s management plans for the areas are one or more decades old and don’t include new information on the impacts of energy development on wildlife.

The BLM is in the middle of updating the plans.

Rep. Mark Udall, D-Colo., and a candidate for the U.S. Senate, said he’s glad the BLM listened to the complaints but he planned to follow developments closely and encourage the BLM to work closely with those affected by the decisions.

“It would have been better for them to have done more consultation in advance, rather than just make an abrupt announcement that took so many by surprise,” he said in a statement.

Sample said protests were filed on nearly all the parcels up for lease. The leases won’t be issued until the BLM decides the protests.

Companies nominate land for lease. The BLM, which holds quarterly auctions, says it is mandated to manage the land for multiple uses, which may include energy development.

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