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BLM to auction leases for gas drilling in Huerfano County

by Carla J. Dolce

HUERFANO- The Bureau of Land Management is auctioning oil and gas leases for 32 parcels, totaling over 46,000 acres, of federally-owned mineral rights in Huerfano County on Thursday, May 14.  Some of the parcels are BLM-owned land and some are “split estates” where the government owns the mineral rights and the surface rights are privately owned.  Included are over 3,000 acres west of La Veta, about 5,000 acres around Silver Mountain, and thousands of acres in the Gardner area both north and south of Hwy 69 and east and west of Gardner.  Also included is a 40 acre parcel owned by Deane and Patricia Merryman in about the middle of Navajo Ranch Resorts.

    According to Jim Sample from BLM′s Denver office, almost all the parcels being auctioned were “nominated” by a company interested in developing the oil and gas resources.  BLM may have added nearby or contiguous parcels for efficiency.  Once nominated, BLM evaluates a parcel against its current regional resource management plan which considers environmental factors like wildlife habitat as well as feasibility of resource development.  If the parcel is suitable, it′s added to the auction list.

    The deadline for protesting the inclusion of any parcel in the auction expired April 29.  The Huerfano County Commissioners sent a letter to BLM protesting leasing “near wilderness areas and environmentally sensitive areas within our county.” Jim Sample noted that “every parcel has received at least one protest.” He went on to say, “This isn′t unusual.  It′s been like this the past two or three years.” Protests came from the Center for Native Ecosystems, Western Resource Advocates, Colorado Trout Unlimited, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, Wolf Springs Ranches and the Colorado Division of Wildlife, which sent “recommendations” during the protest period.

    According to the Merrymans, they received “no advance notice of the auction” and “had no chance to protest.” They first learned about the oil and gas leasing last Saturday when William Boeck, president of the Navajo Ranch Homeowners Association, drove up to their house and presented them with the BLM map showing their parcel as one for which BLM is auctioning oil and gas rights.  They were shocked.  When they bought their house sitting on the 40 acre parcel in 2000, they knew they weren′t getting the mineral rights but “didn′t give it much thought since this is so common in Colorado.” Now, they′re learning all they can about gas drilling and split estates. 

    New Oil and Gas Regulations Challenged in Court: 

    On May 1, just nine days after being officially signed into law by Governor Ritter, the Colorado Oil & Gas Association (COGA) sued state regulators in an effort to invalidate new regulations governing exploitation of oil and gas.  The new regulations were the result of a 22-day hearing, the longest in the history of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, and consideration of  input from 85 interested parties, including oil and gas companies.

    COGA′s lawsuit is all about money.  COGA claims the COGCC did not accurately and publicly forecast what it will cost the state agency to enforce the new rules and did not accurately forecast the cost for companies to comply with the rules.

    Many local Huerfano and Las Animas County residents worked hard to get the new regulations enacted.  Richard Goodwin from the River Ridge Ranch area and Gopa Ross from Las Animas County attended legislative hearings in Denver in support of the new regulations.  Both are among the numerous Huerfano and Las Animas County residents who have been adversely impacted by coal bed methane exploitation. With 46,000 acres in Huerfano County being auctioned for oil and gas drilling this week, more local residents will undoubtedly become interested in the fate of the new regulations.

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