DOW still hoping to halt drilling in wildlife habitat near New Castle
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
NEW CASTLE Colo. ” A protest that the Colorado Division of Wildlife placed against the sale of a federal mineral lease parcel underneath the Garfield Creek State Wildlife Area near New Castle may take up to six months to resolve.
Jamie Gardner, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Land Management, said the agency will conduct a full “review and analysis” of the DOW protest.
“We will look back through our documentation, make sure that we didn’t miss anything and check that against what the protests say and do an evaluation of whether their concerns are adequately covered by the analysis we have already done and the protections we have in place,” Gardner said.
The DOW wrote a letter to the BLM in late January, asking that the sale of a mineral parcel underneath the habitat 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.”
The BLM, while deferring the sale of three leases at the request of the DOW, sold a 360-acre parcel for $2,400 an acre. That parcel, along with 34 other properties, were under protest in the Feb. 14 lease sale. The DOW protested the sale of 27 parcels, all of which were spread out over the state.
The DOW could not block the sale of the mineral lease underneath the habitat area because the agency didn’t own the rights to it.
Randy Hampton, a spokesman for the DOW, said the Garfield Creek State Wildlife Area is “a critically important property for the DOW” and that the agency will continue to work with the BLM to see if “we can’t reach some kind of resolution” on the agency’s protest of the parcel’s sale.
Before the Feb. 14 lease sale, the BLM told all the bidders that the leases were under protest, and that those objections would have to be resolved before the leases are granted. If the BLM upholds a protest, the money for the lease is given back to the bidder.
All protests from any given lease sale are resolved at the same time, Gardner said.
“However long it takes to resolve the group of protests from any given lease sale, we take that time and don’t send out letters resolving the protests one way or another until they are all done,” Gardner said.
Will the stipulations work?
The contested lease has a no-surface-occupancy (NSO) stipulation, which means gas companies would have to directionally drill from other areas to extract the natural gas to minimize surface disturbances.
“We have taken DOW’s interests to heart, obviously, by putting a no-surface-occupancy stipulation there,” Gardner said. “That is a pretty big, blanket stipulation on our part.”
However, the BLM can make an exception to the NSO stipulation in consultation with the DOW. The DOW has already said that it will oppose any exceptions.
A possible exception to the NSO stipulation is one of the DOW’s main concerns over the parcel’s sale and is why the DOW will continue to work with the BLM to see that it is overturned, Hampton said.
“There can’t be exceptions if the (BLM doesn’t) offer the lease,” he said. “No-surface-occupancy doesn’t guarantee anything.”
As an example, Hampton said a drilling company could seek to access the minerals from adjoining private property ” which do not have any NSO stipulations ” and possibly create a situation where a drill rig is erected right next to DOW land, Hampton said.
“(That) still ultimately may cause a wildlife disturbance,” Hampton said.
And if owners cannot access the mineral lease from an adjoining property, they could ask the BLM for an exception from the NSO stipulation.
“That puts the BLM in a very difficult position to say no,” Hampton said “The better protection in our mind is to not lease it all.”
Mineral rights below the Garfield Creek Wildlife Area belong to multiple owners, including one person who owns a large share of the mineral rights, the federal government and three other owners. Denver-based Orion Energy Partners has begun making preliminary preparations to drill on private property in the middle of the wildlife area. The company has said it plans to drill in the area at a time when it would not impact wildlife.
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Ghez, 55, has long been a familiar name around the Aspen Center for Physics, a nonprofit launched in 1962 that seeks to bring the best minds in the world together for collaboration and innovation.