Critics say BLM not notifying public of natural gas drilling
The Bureau of Land Management is under scrutiny these days for what some perceive as a lack of communication with the public. In May, U.S. Rep. John Salazar, D-Colo., took the BLM to task for its apparent failure to notify all landowners about potential gas drilling. A May 11 statement from Salazar’s office said that in response to the congressman’s remark, the BLM removed 17,500 acres of split-estate lands from a scheduled lease auction to give landowners more time to “understand the impact of drilling on local land and water.”Salazar also took aim at the agency’s overall policy on public notification.”Clearly, the BLM’s guidelines for community outreach are outdated. … When people regularly complain that they are not getting the information they need, you would think efforts would have been made to improve communication,” Salazar said. “Congressional intervention should not have been necessary for the BLM to work more directly with the community. I would hope that the public outcry … would spur the BLM to develop a better relationship with rural residents.”The Colorado Environmental Coalition recently took issue with the BLM over failure to notify “interested parties” – landowners and organizations – about potential natural gas leasing. Instead, it directs people to its Web site for information. However, the Colorado BLM site has not been operational since April 8, said Pete Kolbenschlag, Western Slope field director for the CEC.”Historically, the BLM contacted the CEC to say an action was proposed and make sure we were able to look at documents and be part of the process. The failure is broader than … us not getting notified,” he said.The BLM failed to notify the state parks department about gas leasing in the area of Paonia Reservoir and did not notify interested landowners about gas leasing in the Colona and Montrose areas, he said.He said the agency’s rush to develop oil and gas has caused a change in policy of notifying interested parties.”These are public resources and this is a public agency spending public dollars,” Kolbenschlag said. “Yet, the BLM has steadfastly refused to reasonably involve citizens in decisions affecting America’s national lands.”The CEC raised the issue over an environmental assessment of 27,635 acres of natural gas leases on South Shale Ridge in far western Garfield County.The BLM failed to notify U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., about the leasing, Kolbenschlag said, “despite its inclusion in DeGette’s proposed wilderness legislation and her official request for notification.”The CEC requested the BLM extend the public comment period on the environmental assessment but it refused, Kolbenschlag said. After DeGette’s office contacted the BLM, the comment period was extended from May 21 to June 21.In a letter to the Denver Post on June 7, Douglas Koza, associate Colorado director of the BLM, said the agency doesn’t have the manpower to identify and notify all surface property owners in oil and gas lease sales.”In the past, the BLM has gone beyond legal notification requirements by making lease information available over the Internet,” Koza said. “However, a recent shutdown of the BLM’s Internet sites eliminated this service. As a result, the BLM did defer a number of split-estate parcels from the last lease sale.”While we are now considering additional methods to ensure the public is adequately notified of future lease sales, some of the onus lies with private property owners to become familiar with real estate disclosure rules and their property rights – particularly concerning the mineral estate – when purchasing their property,” he added.Kolbenschlag also pointed out that the BLM has an obligation to the public.”Our government is founded on openness and public involvement. The BLM needs to follow the law just like all the rest of us.”
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