Navajo Nation, EPA question plan to open land near Great Sand Dunes for oil, gas drilling |

Navajo Nation, EPA question plan to open land near Great Sand Dunes for oil, gas drilling

Bruce Finley
The Denver Post
HOOPER, CO - April 31: The beach at the base of the dunes at Great Sand Dunes National Park with the Sangre de Cristo mountains behind. April 31, 2017, Hooper, Colorado. (Photo by Joe Amon/The Denver Post)
Joe Amon/The Denver Post

The federal government’s push to open some of Colorado’s most pristine and delicate high country — near two sacred Navajo mountains and touching the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness — to oil and gas drilling has hit turbulence.

The Environmental Protection Agency has asked the Bureau of Land Management to consider a delay.

Thousands of residents have weighed in against the BLM’s planned auction of access to underground minerals. Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye on Thursday vowed to protect the beauty and sacredness of the land.

Gov. John Hickenlooper said he takes the concerns seriously. And state lawmakers are fighting the sale and asking Colorado’s congressional leaders for help. Public land conservation groups, including Conservation Colorado, the Sierra Club and the National Parks Conservation Association, also strongly object.

But BLM officials were pressing ahead on an anonymously submitted proposal that eventually could bring industrial trucks and drilling rigs onto 18,000 acres of wildlife habitat in the Huerfano River Basin above the Wet Mountain and San Luis valleys. This reflects efforts by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to accelerate development of fossil fuels on public lands, at a time when U.S. oil and gas exports are increasing.

The leases would give access to fossil fuels under land within a mile of the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. This would happen on land that energy company owners Crystal and David Watts, of Texas, bought last year from shampoo magnate Tom Redmond — property where the Wattses told Huerfano County commissioners they will develop an elk hunting ranch, government records show. Just to the north, the Navajo Nation owns more than 26 square miles, purchased last year from Redmond and another rancher, reclaiming Navajo ancestral land in Colorado.

For more on this story, go to