Colorado guv critical of BLM lease sale

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper is asking the Bureau of Land Management to defer offering upcoming numerous oil and gas lease parcels for sale due to potential wildlife impacts and concerns raised by North Fork Valley activists. As in Utah, there are concerns about the BLM’s planned lease sales this December.

While environmental organizations in Utah take issue with the new BLM format for offering lease sales, so apparently is the Colorado governor, who disagrees with a new BLM policy that streamlines the oil and gas lease sale process. He says a shrunken review timeframe creates difficulties for the state, according to a recent story in the Grand Junction Sentinel.

The BLM has proposed offering nearly a quarter-million acres of oil and gas leases in its December lease sale. Much of that acreage is in northwest Colorado. “With 227 parcels representing 236,010 acres spread across the state, I must stress to you the great burden this expanded sale and condensed review schedule puts on state staff to adequately review parcels,” Hickenlooper said in a letter sent to Gregory Shoop, the BLM’s acting state director in Colorado.

Hickenlooper says the sale would include about 108,600 acres in priority and general habitat for greater sage-grouse. The BLM is currently revising a 2015 plan for managing land to protect the imperiled greater sage-grouse in Colorado, where it’s found only in the northwest part of the state. Hickenlooper has voiced support for that proposed revision, but asks in his letter that the BLM hold off on offering that acreage until the revision is complete, according to the Sentinel.

The revision would be made to area BLM resource management plans. The BLM’s new lease streamlining policy says leasing won’t be routinely deferred while awaiting amendments or revisions of resource management plans. The Colorado governor says that if the BLM doesn’t defer offering the acreage, the agency should still take steps — including barring leasing of 19 lease parcels within a mile of sage-grouse leks, or mating grounds — consistent with the 2015 grouse plan. “We appreciate the verbal commitment we have received from BLM staff to make this change,” he added in his letter.

On the other side of the natural resources aisle, a representative of the energy industry criticized the Colorado governor’s words. Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance industry group, said it’s “disappointing that the governor is trying to further slow responsible oil and natural gas leasing that could provide millions of dollars of revenue and economic development to the West Slope. During the Obama administration, lease sales in Colorado were pulled back to a trickle and job creation on the West Slope suffered. Now the Trump administration is trying to move forward without extending the analysis over years, and the governor is complaining because the comment period is slightly shortened.”

CPW “had the opportunity to provide substantive comments, which it sounds like BLM has taken to heart, and leasing will occur under the existing Obama plans, with all their restrictions, so sage-grouse will continue to be protected,” Sgamma said.

Hickenlooper also asked the BLM to defer its plans to offer leases covering nearly 8,000 acres in Colorado’s North Fork Valley pending completion of a new resource management plan by its Uncompahgre Field Office. The BLM previously had deferred plans to offer leases there for that reason. In a letter to the BLM this week, the Colorado Farm & Food Alliance, Slow Food Western Slope, the Valley Organic Growers Association and the West Elk Winery Association, along with 31 businesses, organizations and individuals, objected to offering leases based on a “terribly stale” 1989 resource management plan. Pete Kolbenschlag, with the Colorado Farm & Food Alliance, said those groups are “very appreciative” of Hickenlooper’s comments.

The Sentinel story said that Hickenlooper also wrote of concerns about possible impacts to big game corridors and winter game habitat because of the leasing. He notes that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has issued an order aimed at improving such corridors and winter habitat. Hickenlooper also says there is growing evidence that seasonal timing limits on oil and gas development activities aren’t adequate to protect these corridors and winter habitat, with impacts increasing dramatically when there is more than one well pad per square mile, because of more roads and well-related traffic.

The governor recommended that for lease parcels in the highest-priority big game corridors and winter habitat, well pad densities should be limited to one pad per mile. He also said Colorado Parks and Wildlife recommends the sale of those parcels be deferred until resource management plans can be revised to address well pad density, the Sentinel wrote.

The BLM’s expedited leasing policy calls for the parcel review for a lease sale to last no more than six months. In April, Bob Randall, executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, wrote to the BLM to express concerns about the new policy. “I reaffirm those concerns now as we see the impacts of the (policy) first-hand during this sale,” Hickenlooper wrote.

He said in a news release July 19, “BLM leaders in Washington have made significant changes to timelines and public involvement related to its process for public leasing of land parcels for oil and gas development. These changes limit a comprehensive review of the impact of these leases on wildlife, the environment and communities.”

The Paonia-based group Citizens for a Healthy Community has said that the 15-day public comment period for the lease sale was “ludicrously short.” It also fell over the Fourth of July holiday. Their concerns were echoed in Utah by a number of environmental organizations.

BLM spokesman Steven Hall said in an emailed response to the governor’s letter, “BLM and the state of Colorado enjoy a productive relationship on management of public lands and the public’s energy resources here in Colorado. We appreciate the input from the governor and are in the process of evaluating and considering the state of Colorado’s recommendations.” Hall added, “The state and BLM have enjoyed a productive partnership on management of sage-grouse in Colorado, and we expect that will continue into the future.”

Said Nada Culver with The Wilderness Society, “The BLM is moving at a breakneck pace to hand our public lands over to the oil and gas industry, over the growing objections of rural communities, wildlife agencies and local governments. Governor Hickenlooper is asking the BLM to take a step back and ensure leasing decisions are good for Colorado, which is unfortunately not something the current administration is prioritizing.”