Parcels suggested for inclusion in an oil and gas lease sale in Colorado are confirmed not to be situated on National Park Service land, as indicated by a spokesperson from the Colorado division of the Bureau of Land Management.
Despite public concerns and criticisms surrounding the acreage located directly east of the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, the spokesperson clarified that the proposed lease sale offerings in September 2018 are not a direct threat to the park itself.
Situated between the park and the ten parcels is the Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range, known for hosting nine of Colorado’s “Fourteeners” and a ridgeline that reaches nearly 11,000 feet in various locations.
All 16 Democrats in the Colorado State Senate have endorsed a letter expressing their disapproval of the proposed lease sale.
“Extraction and pollution must be kept far, far away from our public lands,” they wrote. The elected officials did not specify what distance would be appropriate in their letter.
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State Senate Minority Leader Leroy Garcia (D-Pueblo) also opposed the sale in an op-ed at the Pueblo Chieftain, saying the “Great Sand Dunes are not for sale.”
“Great Sand Dunes National Park is under attack. One of our most spectacular natural wonders soon could be open for oil and gas drilling if the federal government has its way,” Garcia wrote.
The proposed parcels, as clarified by a spokesperson for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in Colorado, are situated outside the boundaries of the national park or preserve and are not on adjacent forest service land.
According to Jayson Barangan, a public affairs specialist in the BLM Colorado field office’s oil and gas lease sales division, the planned oil and gas lease sales in September 2018 encompass a total of 18,358 acres in the parcels currently under review. Barangan noted that only 1,247 acres of the surface lands fall under BLM maintenance, accounting for 6.8 percent of the parcels available for lease. The remaining 93.2 percent of the surface land is privately owned.
All subsurface minerals are part of the federal mineral estate, the spokesman said.
BLM oversees 564 million acres of BLM-managed surface land and other agency-held lands, along with individual state and private lands where subsurface mineral rights “were retained by the Federal government,” another BLM spokesman previously told.
The agency, situated within the Interior Department, oversees nearly 245 million acres of federal land nationwide, with the majority concentrated in the Western region.
This oversight encompasses permitting natural resource production, including oil and gas, on approximately 700 million subsurface acres, including those in Colorado.
As explained by Barangan, the proposed sale involves subsurface mineral rights, and some parcels feature a combination of BLM and private land on the surface.
All the parcels under consideration are situated in Huerfano County, with its western boundary formed by the Sangre de Cristo ridgeline.
Governor John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, did not join his legislative colleagues in opposing the sale.
The Denver Post reported that he allowed the public comment deadline to elapse upon discovering that the parcels offered by the BLM are on the eastern side of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains’ ridgeline, which reaches nearly 11,000 feet.
Notably, none of the parcels touch the ridgeline, and a buffer of San Isabel National Forest land further separates the BLM parcels from the national park.
The governor’s spokesperson stated that Hickenlooper’s administration will continue to monitor the situation.
State Senate President Kevin Grantham expressed support for the lease sales.
“The operations are clean, they are quiet — all you have to do is visit them to see it,” he said. “It would be good for the economy down there, and they need some boost down there.”
Last month, the Denver Post editorial board considered the impact and the necessity to allow the BLM to conduct its environmental assessment.
While noting the grandeur of the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve—“a special place worthy of protection from all types of development”—it also pointed to the “natural buffer” of the Sangre de Cristos.
“All 18,000 acres under consideration for a lease auction in September are on the other side of the towering Sangre de Cristo mountains from the park,” the editorial board wrote.
“That’s a natural buffer that at times peaks at 14,000 feet and would protect the park from any ensuing light pollution, air pollution, unsightly temporary drilling rigs and heavy truck traffic. When taking that fact into consideration, the proximity of these proposed sites to the park become much less concerning, although clearly still a factor to consider,” they continued.
The notice for the September 6 auction sale will be issued on July 20, 2018. Subsequently, a ten-day protest period will ensue, during which the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will review objections.
The BLM’s final determination will be made after this thorough review process.
Despite recognizing the topographical separation offered by the mountain range, opponents of the proposed parcels express opposition for various reasons.
“The parcels are in an area where there hasn’t been any kind of oil and gas production before,” said Kimberly Pope, a Sierra Club spokeswoman told High Country News. “It is a brand-new area with unknown resource availability that just doesn’t seem like a great choice for the BLM to be leasing.”
Barangan, BLM Colorado’s oil and gas lease media contact, told the Sierra Club’s magazine Sierra that, “There was some misinformation when this story was first announced,” specifically that the parcels were not within the park boundaries of Great Sand Dunes National Park.
“Great Sand Dunes National Park has over 300,000 visitors a year to experience the dark night skies, hike in the wilderness, and get some wonderful solitude that’s really hard to find anywhere else,” said Pope, who is the Sierra Club Our Wild America organizer in Colorado. “We’re not even sure there are resources available on these parcels.”
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