Preliminary oil and gas regulation affects nearly 2 million acres of federal land, including Garfield County

Larry Sandoval, field manager for the BLM’s Colorado River Valley Field Office, speaks in Rifle during the Garfield County Energy Advisory Board meeting on Thursday.
Ray K. Erku/Glenwood Springs Post Independent

Federal officials are considering whether most of nearly 2 million acres of surface lands — including a solid chunk of Garfield County — should remain open or closed to oil and gas leases.

Larry Sandoval, field manager for the BLM’s Colorado River Valley Field Office, presented details on a court-ordered reevaluation of Resource Management Plans to the Garfield County Energy Advisory Board on Thursday.

The reevaluation stems from litigation in 2016, when Carbondale-based conservation watchdog Wilderness Workshop filed a lawsuit against the BLM. Wilderness Workshop argued the federal entity did not fully analyze and disclose environmental impacts resulting from a 2015 RMP, which opened thousands of acres to oil and gas production between the Colorado River Valley and Grand Junction field offices.

Litigation resulted in BLM having to broaden the range of alternatives for lands available for oil and gas development and provide air quality impacts from combustible greenhouse gasses based on all alternatives.

“There’s just shy of 2 million acres that basically speak to federal minerals,” Sandoval said.

This poses a huge strain on oil and gas revenue, the Garfield County Board of Commissioners recently argued in formal comments to the BLM Upper Colorado District last week. And, according to maps presented by Sandoval, there’s at least 689,400 acres of high to very high oil and gas potential in this area, with another 251,800 acres considered moderate potential.

Meanwhile, the new preliminary alternative — the most restrictive — attached to this supplemental environmental impact statement includes closing off 80% of about 1.94 million acres to oil and gas leases. It would focus on areas of low-moderate potential for oil and gas development.

“The preliminary issues we identified are, what are the environmental consequences — that downstream combustion?” Sandoval said. “Then the socio-economic impacts, because you’ve got Garfield County, who feels strongly about the importance of oil and gas leasing.” 

Sandoval said the planning process consists of receiving public comment and holding public meetings on the draft of the supplemental environmental impact statement in spring and summer of 2023. The final SEIS and decision is slated for 2024.

Garfield County Energy Advisory Board Member Jerry Seifert, also a Silt trustee, asked if public input has any influence on the final decision coming in 2024.

“I think the thing to focus on is there’s such good comments,” Sandoval said. “Those things that are more immediate, that we can chew on.”